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Small but mighty

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Science  11 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6389, pp. 594-597
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6389.594

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Summary

Researchers have discovered that camels, llamas, sharks, and a few other animals produce unusually small antibodies. Discovered by accident, these molecules appear to have an important role in the animals' defense against pathogens, although exactly how they provide protection isn't clear. Because they are durable, easy to make, and versatile, the molecules, and even smaller fragments of them that are often called antibodies, are proving themselves as research tools. Scientists have used them to stabilize proteins during crystallography studies, to manipulate proteins inside cells, and to perform other tasks that conventional antibodies aren't suited for. Small antibodies and nanobodies are also being studied as potential treatments for diseases such as cancer, as imaging agents, and for diagnostic testing. The first nanobody-based drug, which targets a clotting disorder, could be approved this year.