The Clinical Uses of Monoclonal Antibodies


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Lab technician bathing prepared slides in a solution. This technician prepares slides of monoclonal antibodies for researchers. The cells shown are labeling human breast cancer.

By Public domain image from, Public Domain,

OpenStax Microbiology

Since the most common methods for producing monoclonal antibodies use mouse cells, it is necessary to create humanized monoclonal antibodies for human clinical use. Mouse antibodies cannot be injected repeatedly into humans, because the immune system will recognize them as being foreign and will respond to them with neutralizing antibodies. This problem can be minimized by genetically engineering the antibody in the mouse B cell. The variable regions of the mouse light and heavy chain genes are ligated to human constant regions, and the chimeric gene is then transferred into a host cell. This allows production of a mAb that is mostly “human” with only the antigen-binding site being of mouse origin.

Humanized mAbs have been successfully used to treat cancer with minimal side effects. For example, the humanized monoclonal antibody drug Herceptin has been helpful for the treatment of some types of breast cancer. There have also been a few preliminary trials of humanized mAb for the treatment of infectious diseases, but none of these treatments are currently in use. In some cases, mAbs have proven too specific to treat infectious diseases, because they recognize some serovars of a pathogen but not others. Using a cocktail of multiple mAbs that target different strains of the pathogen can address this problem. However, the great cost associated with mAb production is another challenge that has prevented mAbs from becoming practical for use in treating microbial infections.

One promising technology for inexpensive mAbs is the use of genetically engineered plants to produce antibodies (or plantibodies). This technology transforms plant cells into antibody factories rather than relying on tissue culture cells, which are expensive and technically demanding. In some cases, it may even be possible to deliver these antibodies by having patients eat the plants rather than by extracting and injecting the antibodies. For example, in 2013, a research group cloned antibody genes into plants that had the ability to neutralize an important toxin from bacteria that can cause severe gastrointestinal disease. Eating the plants could potentially deliver the antibodies directly to the toxin.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: