Uses of monoclonal antibodies

Pregnancy test kits

Pregnancy test kits use monoclonal antibodies. These have been designed to bind with a hormone called HCG which is found only in the urine of pregnant women. Monoclonal antibodies are attached to the end of a pregnancy test stick onto which a woman urinates. If she is pregnant, HCG will be present in her urine and will bind to the monoclonal antibodies on the test stick. This will cause a change in colour or pattern which will indicate pregnancy. These specific monoclonal antibodies in the pregnancy test will only bind with HCG.

Pregnancy test stick
Pregnancy test sticks use monoclonal antibodies to tell if a woman is pregnant

Cancer diagnosis and treatment

Cancerous cells have antigens on their surface. Monoclonal antibodies can be designed to bind specifically with these antigens. When injected into a person's body, the monoclonal antibodies will bind with these cancer cells and clump them together. This makes it easier to identify a cancerous tumour, which can then be treated or removed. The antibodies can be made slightly radioactive to allow the cancerous cells to be detected in the body, for example using a PET scanner.

Monoclonal antibodies have also been designed to treat cancer by:

  • Carrying drugs that have been attached to them, to the tumour. This means that the drugs specifically target the cancer cells and can allow smaller doses of chemotherapy drugs to be used. This can reduce the side effects and reduce risk to healthy cells.
  • Encouraging your immune system to attack the cancer cells directly.

Other diagnostic uses

Monoclonal antibodies can be made to bind to antigens on blood clots. The monoclonal antibodies can be attached to dyes that will glow fluorescently under UV light or attached to radioactive elements which can be detected with special cameras. This can make locating the clot much easier and can help to speed up how quickly a patient is treated.