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 Department of Biophysics
Search Biophysics JHU

 
Cone Lab

320 Jenkins Hall
3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

(410) 516-7259 office
(410) 516-4118 fax

Mucosal Immunity:  New Methods for Contraception and Disease Protection

Our goal is to develop new methods of prophylactic contraception that will be more appealing to use than those now available.  Our immediate goal is to develop monoclonal human antibodies to use as the active agents for barrier methods that will directly protect genital skin and epithelia by topical passive immunization.

All mucus secretions contain antibodies that act as highly specific agents for preventing the entry of toxins and infectious pathogens while helping maintain healthy bacterial flora on our mucosal surfaces.  Mucosal antibodies (sIgA, sIgM) that act as barriers against the infectious entry of sexually transmitted disease (STD) pathogens, as well as sperm, can be cloned from white blood cells, and these monoclonal antibodies can be applied directly to genital skin and epithelia for protection.  This use of antibodies will closely mimic the normal function of antibodies in the mucosal immune system, e.g., antibodies in a mother’s milk help protect the mucosal surfaces of the mouth, nose, eyes, and entire digestive tract of her baby.

We are investigating: (1) The molecular interactions that enable secreted antibodies to trap pathogens and sperm in mucus secretions. (2) The types of mucosal antibodies that are most protective against STD pathogens. (3) Methods for stimulating the production of mucosal antibodies for active, as well as passive immunization of mucosal surfaces.  Our results to date indicate that monoclonal antibodies delivered to the vagina can help prevent pregnancy as well as sexual transmission of two incurable diseases, genital herpes, and AIDS.

Commercial research and development of new barrier methods for protecting against unwanted pregnancy and STDs is also being pursued through a Research Agreement with ReProtect, LLC.  BufferGel™, ReProtect’s first product, is now in clinical trials.  BufferGel is a spermicidal microbicide that supports the protective acidity of the vagina (pH4) and kills sperm and STD pathogens, including HIV, by acidifying the (alkaline) ejaculate.  Research on BufferGel is helping advance basic research on the physiological origin of vaginal acidity.  In addition, ReProtect is pursuing the production of monoclonal antibodies in transgenic plants (“plantibodies”) to obtain safe and inexpensive antibodies suitable for consumer products.

 

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