Transcript

Scientists Patent New Role for Sharks - giving antibodies to save lives

Reporter:

These powerful and fascinating creatures are not normally associated with human health and well being. But Scientists from La Trobe University are pioneering a process that uses shark antibodies in the fight against auto-immune diseases. This method aims to use these antibodies as a way to find binding agents, that will adhere to anything, such as a molecular cancer cells or inflammatory proteins that could be used in therapy.

Assoc. Professor, Mick Foley:

In this small tube we have a very large number of shark antibodies that we developed from the blood of sharks, and were hoping to use this library to develop therapeutics for a variety of different diseases.

Reporter:

This emerging technology is the next step in the work of La Trobe molecular biologist Associate Professor Mick Foley, and AdAlta's consultant scientist, Dr Stewart Nuttall, from the CSIRO. This is not the first breakthrough discovery for the researchers, who found in 2004 that shark antibodies were highly effective in killing malarial parasites.

Assoc Professor, Mick Foley:

Because these shark antibodies are small and robust, they are very useful for getting into tight canyons and surface proteins, and so for example, we have a malaria target here that we used a library to find an antibody to. And you can see the antibody going right into the groove in the malaria protein. When the shark antibody binds the protein, it is able to block the function of that, and essentially kill the parasite. So we hope to use these for a variety of other diseases such as cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and things like that."

Dr. Stewart Nuttall:

This is a crystal graphic structure of one of the first shark antibody we solved. We took this particularly antibody from the blood of wobbegong sharks. If we compare this to say, mouse or a human antibody, they would have another domain here. So, this is effectively half the size of conventional antibodies.

Reporter:

Scientists believe the minuteness and robustness of the shark antibodies will serve them well, as targeting agents in the search for more effective disease therapies.

Assoc Professor, Mick Foley:

All the molecules, are the amino acids on the surface that have evolved to get rid of (inaudible) immune response, these shark antibodies can bypass that and go straight for the important bits, to the business end of the molecule.

Reporter:

This new technology will be showcased to the world at the BIO 2008 conference, in San Diego this week. While it may be some time before we see the full realisation of this novel research, it has significant implications for the diverse range of immune-related diseases currently targeted by the global multi-billion dollar search for effective antibody-based therapies. According to the scientists commercialising the process at the Ad Alta laboratories in Bundoora, these antibodies that are likely to become the next generation of antibody-based diagnostic and therapeutic treatments.

Assoc Professor, Mick Foley:

AdAlta has got and internal pipeline and internal targets that it is interested in. It is particularly rheumatoid arthritis, but essentially any other company or any academic partner can have access to this library, if what they require is a high affinity of very specific, shark antibody, that is able to target particular antigens that they are interested in, then really, this library is for them."

Reporter:

If Professor Foley and his colleagues are right, these creatures, who so often arouse fear and loathing will soon take their place in our world, as our next best friends - doing their bit to fight off the predators within.