Belgian rewarded for his work on camel antibodies


Molecular biologist Jan Steyaert is the first Belgian to receive the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine from Brandeis University (USA). Thanks to camels....

The award recognises both Steyaert's basic research and his ability to apply that research to the development of therapeutic technologies.

But what is the camel's role?

More than 20 years ago, scientists at the VUB discovered that the camel has antibodies with a less complex structure than those of other mammals, including humans. This discovery has led to new drugs.

Our body defends itself against viruses and bacteria thanks to antibodies that bind to specific components of pathogens. These antibodies are now used in therapies against Covid-19 and cancer, for example. Teams from the VUB and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) led by Jan Steyaert have modified the structure of camel antibodies (nanobodies) to make them even more useful. "You can make these nanobodies bind to whatever you want." So nanobodies can be produced on a large scale for a relatively low cost. This is one of the great advantages of camel antibodies over conventional antibodies.

In addition to medical uses, these low production costs also make it possible to envisage opportunities in the pesticide sector, where these nanobodies could protect fruit and vegetables against fungi. This technology could even purify water.

This range of low-cost uses makes the discovery even more interesting.