This article has been reviewed according to Science X's editorial process and policies. Editors have highlighted the following attributes while ensuring the content's credibility:


peer-reviewed publication

trusted source


Tiny antibodies hold big promise for cancer treatment

Tiny antibodies hold big promise for cancer treatment
(A) Schematic of the process of generating and isolating anti-PRL-3 nanobodies (Created with (B) Binding of each histidine-tagged nanobody (NB, at a concentration of 6.22 pmol) to 5 pmol PRL-1, PRL-2, or PRL-3 in 96-well plates. Credit: PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0285964

Using antibodies derived from alpacas, a University of Kentucky research team has developed a tool that could lead to new therapies to stop the growth of several types of cancer.

While researchers have known that a protein called PRL-3 is linked to the growth of colon, breast, lung, skin and , there is little understanding about how it works due to a lack of tools to study it effectively.

With unique alpaca antibodies known as , the team led by UK Markey Cancer Center researcher Jessica Blackburn, Ph.D., developed the first effective tool to specifically target PRL-3.

The discovery brings scientists one step closer to developing a drug that can stop the expression of PRL-3 and the growth of cancer, says Blackburn.

"The nanobodies are valuable new tools that can help researchers better understand how PRL-3 contributes to cancer progression," said Blackburn, an associate professor in the UK College of Medicine's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. "Ultimately, this discovery opens up new possibilities for developing better treatments to fight cancer and improve the lives of patients."

The PRL-3 nanobodies, developed in collaboration with UK's Protein Core, showed promising results in lab tests highlighted in the journal PLOS ONE.

The nanobodies were able to identify PRL-3 within and attach to the active site of the protein, potentially interfering with its ability to promote cancer growth. Additionally, the nanobodies reduced the interaction between PRL-3 and another protein called CNNM3, which is known to promote cancer growth in animal models.

Blackburn says that the nanobodies' ability to locate PRL-3 within cancer cells will give researchers new insights into what other proteins or molecules it interacts with, which will add to the understanding of its function in cancer. Their ability to attach to PRL-3 could also have potential for therapeutic development.

"Nanobodies that target other proteins are already in for a variety of human diseases, so it could be possible for a PRL-3 nanobody to be used as a drug to bind to PRL-3 and inhibit its activity," Blackburn said.

Alpacas are one of the very few animals that produce nanobodies, also known as single domain antibodies or heavy chain only antibodies. Nanobodies are 10 times smaller than regular antibodies. Their size gives them the potential to enter a cell in ways that a normal antibody cannot, offering a promising tool for understanding disease and drug development.

"Nanobodies have become the 'hot' new research tool due to their , stability, , high specificity, ease of manipulation, and ease of production. There are now over 2,000 publications involving nanobodies listed in PubMed," said Lou Hersh, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry and director of UK's Protein Core.

UK is just one of a handful of institutions currently producing alpaca nanobodies used for biomedical research. In the past six years, the UK Protein Core has helped researchers generate more than 100 nanobodies to target proteins involved in a variety of human diseases including cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders and viruses like COVID-19.

This process requires collaboration of experts across disciplines, specialized equipment, and, of course, alpacas. To create the nanobodies, the alpacas are immunized with the protein of interest, and six weeks later, researchers collect blood samples. Then the nanobodies targeting the are identified, isolated, tested, and reproduced in the lab.

The Protein Core has had a partnership with a local farm, where the animals reside most of the year. They have visited UK's North Farm to get immunized and have blood drawn.

More information: Caroline N. Smith et al, Development and characterization of nanobodies that specifically target the oncogenic Phosphatase of Regenerating Liver-3 (PRL-3) and impact its interaction with a known binding partner, CNNM3, PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0285964

Journal information: PLoS ONE

Citation: Tiny antibodies hold big promise for cancer treatment (2023, August 10) retrieved 16 April 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Nanobody-drug conjugates hijack the human vitamin B12 uptake route


Feedback to editors