Our bodies produce antibodies as a defense mechanism against internal intruders such as pathogens and allergens. Each antibody has a binding site that attaches it to a specific target or ‘antigen’. For example, antibodies might bind to proteins on the surface of a bacterium. Among other responses by the immune system, this triggers white blood cells to ingest, and thus kill, the entire antibody/antigen complex.
The researchers used molecular imprinting (a method akin to pouring plastic molds, but at the microscopic level) to make synthetic molecules that could bind melittin, the main toxin in bee venom. Briefly, they mixed the melitten with the plastic, allowed the plastic to solidify around the melitten, and then removed the melitten. The end result was a plastic substance that bound melitten like a lock and key.
The next step was to test whether the synthetic antibody could function like biological antibodies in clearing invaders from a living body. To this end, the scientists injected mice with a lethal amount of melittin, and then an injection of the melittin-specific plastic antibodies they had created. The mice that received the plastic antibodies survived at a much higher rate than the ones that had not received them.
The researchers believe that plastic antibodies could be created for a large range of antigens. I, for one, would welcome any technique of clearing allergens more quickly.