Researchers are perfecting a technique called molecular imprinting that aims to create a new method to develop artificial antibodies.
From MIT Tech Review:
To make the new and improved artificial antibodies, Shea [Kenneth Shea, professor of chemistry, University of California, Irvine] and his collaborators at the Tokyo Institute of Technology refined a technique called molecular imprinting. This involves taking a target molecule and placing it in a solution containing the building blocks of a polymer antibody. The polymer then grows around its target, conforming to its shape; once it’s done, the target molecule is rinsed away. Then, when the artificial antibody next meets the target molecule, they fit together like a key in a lock. “You can make a mold around almost any molecule,” explains Klaus Mosbach, founder of the Center for Molecular Imprinting at the Center for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, in Lund, Sweden, who pioneered the technique.
The researchers developed much better plastic antibodies by enhancing the imprinting process in a novel way. Shea and his collaborators started with a target protein, melittin, and screened libraries of polymer building blocks for those that would bind to it most effectively. “Some effort went into determining the composition that would minimize interaction with [nontarget] garden-variety proteins,” says Shea. His artificial antibody has a high affinity for its target protein, comparable in strength to that of a natural antibody, and also works in water solutions. The synthesis is described in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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Image: An artificial antibody targets a toxic protein called melittin (top). The polymer “antibody” is grown around melittin, shaping it into a binding shell (middle). When the melittin is rinsed away, the polymer retains its shape (bottom) and is ready to bind with the protein again. Credit: Kenneth Shea