Synthetic antibodies are biomimetic materials in the form of minute polymer particles moulded round a target molecule in such a way that they preserve its “print”.
Hence their specific property, viz., capable of recognizing and neutralizing this target exactly as an antibody does with a pathogenic agent. “We call these synthetic antibodies molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) and they have been known for some time now”, explains Jeanne Bernadette Tse Sum Bui, research scientist at the UTC GEC Lab (Enzyme and Cellular engineering).
“However at UTC-GEC we are working on new applications. With the company L’Oréal, for example, we demonstrated that the MIPs could act as active ingredients in deodorants, inasmuch as they can capture and sequestrate molecules that lead to transpiration odours before the bacteria present on our skin degrade them into volatile, foul-smelling compounds”. The advantage here is to forego use of certain ingredients in classic deodorants, e.g., aluminium salts that are potentially toxic and carcinogenic and/or antibacterial products while in the long term can disturb seriously the skin flora that naturally combat pathogenic agents and hence encourage the arrival of resistant bacterial strains. MIPs do not alter skin flora at all. And, even though they are microscopic, they are still too large to penetrate the skin barrier. “Synthetic antibodies are also proving to be promising in biomedical applications”, underscores Jeanne Bernadette Tse Sum Bui.
“Today, we are seeking other possible uses as bio-markers for various ailments – for example, sialic acid the presence of which in large quantities may indicate a case of cancer. Here the idea is to develop MIPs that target the sialic acid molecule and integrate a fluorescent monomer which displays a colour when excited by a light-source. By observing a cell biopsy with these MIPs under a fluorescent sensitive microscope, we see the colour marks each of which designated a sialic acid molecule captured by an MIP. This should prove an efficient way to quantify the sialic content accurately and to determine whether the cells in question are really cancerous or not”. Better still – MIPs could also serve as medicinal vectors for certain ailments, releasing their active ingredients on site (viz., delivered to the ill tissues without procuring any unwanted side-effects on healthy tissues. This is a research area that UTC-GEC intends to explore soon.