Stable antibodies enable vast improvements to medical diagnostics and treatment in disaster-stricken areas

When large groups of people are suddenly cut off from electricity, shelter and medical supplies, the initial crisis may be only the tip of the iceberg. Sanitation issues, disease and physical fatigue are among the many widespread and lingering problems that may arise from poor conditions. Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) and S.A.Wyze (Situational Awareness Wisdom) hope to help alleviate this suffering with the help of ultra-stable antibody liquids.

These unique antibodies, developed by an in-house team of AFRL researchers, are shelf-stable and easily transportable, which could translate to vast improvements to medical diagnostics and treatment in remote and disaster-stricken areas.

Traditional antibodies – proteins that are the vital component in vaccinations, therapeutics and medical diagnostics – are extremely sensitive to temperature and can quickly degrade and become ineffective if not refrigerated properly. In fact, some types of antibodies are so sensitive they require precise sub-zero Celsius storage temperatures. This volatility makes them extremely difficult to transport, store and deploy in the field, particularly in remote or isolated areas.

While working on an unrelated biological materials project funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the AFRL research team of Dr. Rajesh Naik, Dr. Patrick Dennis and Dr. Joseph Slocik discovered the protein liquids they were developing displayed some unique properties that could greatly improve the stability of antibodies as we know them.

“The biggest thing about these antibody liquids is that they’re extremely stable; so you can heat them up to hundreds of degrees and they’re still active and they still maintain their structure,” said Slocik.

He explained that the AFRL team developed this material by removing all water from the antibodies while preserving the protein structure and function. Doing so allowed the modified antibodies to retain the same binding properties as traditional antibodies but without refrigeration.

S.A.Wyze is currently in the process of putting the AFRL-developed antibody technology to use by developing and maturing a low-cost, disposable, health-monitoring wristband that can monitor and collect real-time health data such as vital signs and the presence of bacteria and viruses.

The wristband will be able to be distributed to people in need, and data can be collected with a mobile app to be analyzed for both individual concerns and population trends. The wristband concept enables medical and aid workers to easily and inexpensively reach people to meet more needs, more quickly. It also eases the stress, fatigue, and exposure risk for responders.

Antibodies represent the gold standard for diagnostic assays (Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay – ELISA), therapeutics (anti-venoms), and the development of antibody based biosensors; however, they require stringent storage and handling conditions in order to retain function. Conversely, the presence of water is very detrimental to antibodies by increasing the rate of hydrolysis and oxidation, destabilizing protein structure, and increasing the susceptibility/sensitivity to elevated temperatures. To counteract the effects of water and limit decomposition; antibodies require constant refrigeration during storage/handling/transport in order to preserve structure, specificity, functionality, and biological activity. As a result, the need for cold chain logistics is a major barrier in resource limited settings; as well as for military medvac operations where equipment weight and accessibility are major tactical concerns. The exclusion of water from antibody preparations is highly appealing and potentially offers a means towards enabling refrigeration-free storage and handling. Antibody nanoscale ionic liquids represent new multifunctional systems that are well suited towards addressing these challenges. Here, we describe the creation of an ultra-stable antibody ionic liquid that is water-free, resistant to extreme temperatures (200°C), biologically active, exhibits a long shelf-life, and does not require “cold chain” logistics. We have produced antibody ionic liquids against apoferritin, a histidine-rich protein from the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, and hemoglobin. Given the diversity of antibodies, this represents a generalizable approach to creating antibody ionic liquids for virtually any antibody.