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Shark Attack

When scientist Caroline Barelle tells people that her research involves sharks they tend to jump to conclusions. “People often imagine I work next to a tank full of great whites – and that anyone who disagrees with our science becomes lunch!” she jokes. In fact, the sharks Barelle and her team work with are not man-eaters but spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), a common species off the coast of Scotland, where their lab is based. Though the diminutive dogfish may not be auditioning for a part in Jaws any time soon, the technology that Barelle and her colleagues are developing has dramatic potential.

Sharks have been attracting attention as a potential source of therapeutic proteins since the 1990s, when scientists found that, despite evolving some 450 million years ago, they have an adaptive immune system that is surprisingly similar to a mammalian one. The researchers identified an antibody-like molecule – immunoglobulin new antigen receptor (IgNAR) – that forms part of this adaptive response (1,2). While standard mammalian antibodies are made up of heavy and light chains, IgNARs have only heavy chains.

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About the Author

Charlotte Barker

As an Editor at Texere, I’m working closely with our audience to create vibrant, engaging content that reflects the hard work and passion that goes into bringing new medicines to market. I got my start in biomedical publishing as a commissioning editor for healthcare journals and have spent my career covering everything from early-stage research to clinical medicine, so I know my way around. And I can’t think of a more interesting, challenging or important area to be working in.

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