Alpacas May Hold The Key To A Potential Cancer Treatment

A new study has potentially identified a new treatment for cancer from the immune system of our fluffy friend.

Scientists from the Insititute for Research in Biomedicine Barcelona and Vrije Universiteit Brussel found nanobodies -- antibodies that are found exclusively in camelids -- which could potentially stop cancer cells from multiplying.

The antibodies are effective against epidermal growth factor (EGF), which is a protein associated with the growth of cancer cells. While EGF is a therapeutic target in cancer treatment, scientists have until now been unable to find an inhibitor capable of blocking it.

"In spite of advances in treatments against the EGR receptor (EGFR) in patients, their efficacy decreases over time because patients develop resistance," study co-authors Monica Varese and Salvador Guardiola said.

"By taking advantage of an emerging biotech tool, nanobodies, we have been able to synthesise the first inhibitors with high affinity for EGF."

Strategy to obtain and evaluate specific nanobodies against human EGF. Image: Salvador Guardiola and Monica Varese, IRB Barcelona

To do this, researchers in Barcelona produced the EGF protein before the Belgium team adminstered it to alpacas.

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The animals' immune system then produced a series of nanobodies in response to this antigen, from which scientists identified a family of molecules as potential inhibitors of EGF.

The next step in the study will be to use the findings to evaluate the pharmacological effect of these new nanobodies in cell and animal models of cancer.

These drugs which could be useful for cancer patients who have developed resistance to the EGFR inhibitors currently on the market.