Production of monoclonal antibodies - Higher Tier

Greg Foot describes how monoclonal antibodies are produced and how they work

'Mono' means 'one' and 'clone' means 'identical copy'. Monoclonal antibodies are identical copies of one type of antibody.

Antibodies are proteins produced by a type of white blood called lymphocytes. Pathogens have proteins on their surface called antigens. When a pathogen infects the body, the lymphocytes recognise these antigens as foreign and attack them by producing antibodies.

Antibodies bind to specific antigens on pathogens. This means that only one type of antibody will bind to a matching antigen. Scientists discovered that we could make antibodies to bind to antigens on other substances, and not just those on pathogens. Once bound, the antigens - and the substances they are found on - are merged tightly together. This makes them easier to identify and deal with.

Formation of monoclonal antibodies

  1. An antigen is injected into a mouse
  2. The mouse naturally produces lymphocytes, which produce antibodies specific to the antigen
  3. Spleen cells which produce the lymphocytes are removed during a small operation
  4. The spleen cells are fused with human cancerous white blood cells called myeloma cells to form hybridoma cells which divide indefinitely
  5. These hybridoma cells divide and produce millions of monoclonal antibodies specific to the original antigen
Diagram showing how antibodies are collected from a vaccinated mouseA mouse is injected with a vaccine containing an antigen to start the formation of antibodies