How Super Antibodies From Mom Protect Baby and May Help Treat Disease

A new study shows that pregnant women make super antibodies that can fight off infection in their babies and could help cure deadly diseases.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published June 8, 2022
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It’s widely known that pregnant moms pass precious immunity to their babies that helps protect them during their first few months of life. But until last week, doctors didn’t know how this super immunity worked.

A new study published on June 8 in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature explains how mother-provided immunity works, and how, by mimicking these antibodies, scientists may be able to treat deadly diseases and develop better vaccines.

Conducted by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the study identifies a specific sugar (sialic acid) that is changed during pregnancy to allow immunoglobulin G—the body’s most common type of antibody—to take on an expanded protective role, essentially turning regular antibodies into super antibodies.

“For many years, scientists believed that antibodies cannot get inside cells. They don’t have the necessary machinery. And so, infections caused by pathogens that live exclusively inside cells were thought to be invisible to antibody-based therapies,” the senior author of the study, Sing Sing Way, MD, PhD, said in a press release. “Our findings show that pregnancy changes the structure of certain sugars attached to the antibodies, which allows them to protect babies from infection by a much wider range of pathogens.”

Outside of identifying how mothers pass on this super immunity to babies, the research team also managed to grow these super antibodies in the lab, successfully restoring lost immune protection in mice born without the super antibodies.

The study implies that these lab-grown super antibodies could be used as potential treatments for various disorders, including cancer, asthma and multiple sclerosis, as well as hard-to-shake viral and bacterial infections.

The research also shows that nursing mothers continue to pass protective immunity via these super antibodies to their babies through breast milk long after their natural immunity period. Just further evidence of the incredible feats women’s bodies are capable of.

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