Air Force Antibody Research Could Save Lives during Disasters

By Holly Jordan
AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate

Natural or man-made disasters can result in large-scale catastrophes for vast populations, but through a technology licensing agreement with local innovators, the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate is looking to ease the burden and put bio-technology to use for humankind.

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. AFRL, along with Dayton-based innovators, 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 that they require very 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 project researcher Dr. Joseph Slocik.

AFRL project researchers Dr. Joseph Slocik (left), Dr. Rajesh Naik, and Dr. Patrick Dennis review the recently-signed licensing agreement that grants locally-based innovators S.A.Wyze exclusive rights to use AFRL-developed Ultra-Stable Antibody Liquids technology for human diagnostic work. U.S. Air Force photo by Kristi Singh

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. Slocik added that the antibodies displayed other useful characteristics as well. They are viscous in nature, so they can be stamped or printed for precise placement for use in biosensors or diagnostics.

Recognizing the vast potential of these unique materials, the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Technology Transfer office, led by Sunita Chavan, coordinated with the project researchers to investigate its potential transition for real-world commercial use.

“Our goal is to take innovation beyond the laboratory. If we see a dual-use potential—meaning our technology can be used not only for military purposes, but for commercial uses as well—we will pursue that,” Chavan said. She explained that through cooperative partnerships with commercial researchers, the capabilities of AFRL technologies can be fully unleashed, leading to better products for both military and commercial purposes.

Read more on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base website

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