Email Print Share

"'Paca Punch" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Mini-antibodies found in the blood of camels, alpacas and llamas, shrunk further to create so-called "nanobodies," may help solve a problem in the cancer field: making specific types of T-cell therapies work in solid tumors. Scientists used these nanobodies -- which resemble antibodies in human blood -- to enhance the targeting abilities of the T-cell therapies. In tests with mice, the antibodies helped weaken the blood supply to tumors and targeted tumor-protecting proteins, thereby successfully curbing melanoma and colon cancer.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:


I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Way back in 1989 at the Free University of Brussels, two undergrads were asked to test samples of frozen blood serum from camels. (Sound effect: camel sound) This mundane task became a lot more interesting when they came across a previously unknown type of antibody. A miniaturized version of a human antibody subsequently confirmed to also be in the blood of alpacas and llamas. (Sound effect: alpaca, llama sounds) A patent was granted and held by the Belgian team, but not much happened for a few decades, 'til the patent expired (Sound effect: Pac Man death sound) and numerous other researchers got their hands on it.

Including a team from Boston Children's Hospital and MIT that wondered if these mini-antibodies -- shrunk further to create nanobodies -- could be used to make patients' own killer T-cells better at attacking solid cancerous tumors.

In tests with mice, the T-cells the team studded with nanobodies weakened the blood supply to tumors and targeted tumor-protecting proteins -- successfully curbing melanoma and colon cancer.

This promising therapy is the work of many researchers, including one who ironically died of cancer in 2018. Before her death she would make several trips to harvest blood from two alpacas as part of the process. All along, the alpacas, "Bryson" and "Sanchez," never knew of their valuable contribution to medical science. They're alpacas.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.