On Thursday, Nov. 19, Mayo Clinic began offering an experimental therapy to patients who test positive for COVID-19 and are at high risk for serious illness. The therapy uses a type of drug called a monoclonal antibody. But what are monoclonal antibodies? To understand this type of drug, Richard Kennedy, Ph.D., an immunologist and co-director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Group, explains how antibodies are used in the body’s natural immune response.
Natural Antibody Response
The body naturally produces immune proteins, called antibodies, that fight infection. Antibodies are made by B cells, with each B cell making millions of copies of a single antibody. When needed, each B cell will divide into two daughter B cells that are essentially clones of the parent. These clones produce the same antibody. Each antibody is keyed to a particular target, or bad actor, in the body, such as a cancer cell or a virus particle. During an infection, the body has many B cells producing a collection of antibodies that recognize different targets on the same cancer cell or virus particle. This response is called polyclonal â€• “poly” because you have many different antibodies and “clonal” because each type of antibody comes from a set of cloned B cells.
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