Researchers from Nanyang Technological University led by Associate Professor Andrew Tan have developed a potent antibody which can help patients suffering from pneumonia and flu to recover faster. “The kit will be able to help doctors diagnose the severity of pneumonia and the efficacy of the prescribed treatment. This is done by detecting the concentration of a particular protein called ANGPTL4, which is present in samples taken from patients suffering from upper respiratory tract infections.”, says Assoc Prof. Tan. The breakthrough finding was published on Feb 6th in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports. In influenza and other respiratory infections such as SARS and pneumonia, inflammation is the first line of defence by the body and is beneficial in getting rid of the harmful bacteria, virus or parasites. However, the problem arises when the inflammatory processes continue long after the pathogens are flushed out from the body. This causes a build up of fluids in the lungs and internal bleeding, worsening the condition of the patient. This is one of the main reasons for the fatalities associated with pandemic H1N1-2009, highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses and SARS.
Scientists have shown that patients suffering from pneumonia have high levels of a protein called Angiopoietin-like 4(ANGPTL4) in their tissues which regulates leakiness of blood vessels. Thus, blocking this protein could possibly reduce the severity of disease and help in recovery. “When the antibody we developed was given to mice suffering from pneumonia and influenza which had high levels of ANGPTL4, these mice recovered much faster than the other mice who didn’t receive the antibodies,” Assoc Prof Tan said.
“The concentration of ANGPTL4 correlates to the amount of inflammation the patient is having,” Assoc Prof Tan explained. “With our diagnostic kit, doctors will be able to see if a particular treatment is working for a patient. This is done by observing whether the concentration of ANGPTL4 is decreasing or not.”
NTU researcher Li Liang, the first author of the paper, said they have proved that ANGPTL4 causes the blood vessels in the lungs to be leakier, allowing more white blood cells and other antibodies to enter the lungs to combat the infection. By blocking ANGPTL4, the ‘leakiness’ of the blood vessels is lessened, thus reducing the inflammation process. “This study reveals the potential diagnostic and therapeutic value of targeting ANGPTL4 in pneumonia, and warrants further detailed clinical investigation in pneumonia patients”, says Assoc Prof Vincent Chow from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, a co-author of the paper.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide accounting for 15% of all deaths for children under 5yrs old. In Singapore, it’s the second cause of all deaths(18%) after cancer. This antibody has the potential to be used as a biomarker for respiratory infections and pneumonia. Currently, this patent-pending antibody is being used for developing a diagnostic kit which can track the recovery progress of flu and pneumonia patients. Two biotech multinational corporations namely, Abcam and Adipogen international have won the rights to license the antibody. Even though the safety of the antibody is yet to be tested in humans, it has proved to be effective in lab tests.
“While it will take up to eight years to develop the antibody into a usable treatment for human patients, we are currently developing a diagnostic kit which should be commercialised in about three years,” said Assoc Prof Tan. “
This work was done by an interdisciplinary team consisting of members from NTU, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, National University of Singapore (NUS) and doctors from National University Health System. It was jointly funded by NTU, NMRC and MOE, Singapore.
Source: NTU press release
The original publication can be accessed here.