Microfluidic technologies for high-throughput selection and production of monoclonal antibodies from single cells

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system. They work by selectively and tightly attaching themselves to infectious bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, neutralizing their disease-causing abilities. The natural role of antibodies in clearing infections has prompted the pharmaceutical industry to invest billions of dollars in attempts to produce new antibody therapies to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases. As a result, antibodies have become the most rapidly growing class of therapeutic drugs over the last decade. One successful example of an antibody-based therapy is the drug Herceptin, which treats a highly-aggressive form of breast cancer. In order to produce vast quantities of antibodies required for research and therapeutic use, antibody-producing cells are currently fused to immortal cancer cells to allow them to be grown in laboratory culture. Successfully creating antibody-producing fused cells can involve hundreds to thousands of attempts, requiring many years and millions of dollars in research money. MSFHR previously funded Anupam Singhal as he used micron-sized fluid-handling devices and nanotechnology to allow the study of stem cells at the single cell level. He is now using these approaches to rapidly and inexpensively produce antibodies. He is working on a novel technology that is sensitive enough to detect antibodies produced by single cells, and determine which ones are producing the optimal antibody. Then, the genes responsible for antibody production in these cells can be isolated, cloned and inserted into cell lines for production. As a demonstration of this technology, human antibodies against the influenza virus will be developed. This technology could have far-reaching impacts on the rapid and inexpensive development of breakthrough therapeutic drugs and diagnostic agents.