6

This question has been bugging me lately. In the 12 Monkeys TV show, If Cole has immunity to the plague, why couldn't Cassie develop a vaccine from his antibodies? This could have been done as far back as 1987, but certainly in 2015 when Cole and Cassie first meet and she believes him. They would have had a 2 year window to develop and mass-produce a vaccine.

If a vaccine weren't possible, and I'm thinking the Army of the 12 Monkeys' reach is probably long enough to mutate the virus so that a vaccine couldn't be effective, then I'm wondering why this angle wasn't approached? Thanks!

  • Is it stated in the movie that he has antibodies, or is it an assertion? – Armin Apr 3 '16 at 17:54
  • 2
    Some people are immune to HIV. A decade of studying these people hasn't led to a ready vaccine. – Valorum Apr 3 '16 at 18:28
  • Will need to double check but I believe there is an episode that deals with this towards the end of the first season. The virus is highly mutagenic and while a cure has been created for it, it mutated into a new strain infecting everyone all over again. – Bosc Apr 4 '16 at 9:13
  • @Richard The folks with the CCR5 mutation are not technically immune they are technically insusceptible or resistant to HIV infection. Immunity (in the sense of vaccines) is memory, albeit, not cognitive memory—usually based on proteins or protein complexes—not based on gene expression. – Lexible Apr 6 '16 at 3:35
  • @Lexible - Fair enough. That all being said, I gather that extensive study of their insusceptibility hasn't led to an effective vaccine. – Valorum Apr 6 '16 at 7:28
6

Just because an individual has an immunity (whether acquired or natural) to a disease does not mean that a practical vaccine can be manufactured based on that individual's biochemistry. If Cole does have antibodies to the virus, it might be possible to produce a vaccine that caused people inoculated with the vaccine to produce identical antibodies, but that would be exceedingly difficult. It would be necessary to reverse engineer an antigen that would cause people to produce the exact same antibodies, an extremely challenging task. Moreover, this would only be possible if Cole's antibodies to the virus could be isolated and identified to begin with. Cole will have antibodies to thousands of different pathogens in his system, and picking out which ones were responsible to his immunity to the engineered virus would again be hugely challenging.

So having somebody who is immune does not necessarily give you an easy path to making a vaccine. Of course, it's probably best not to think to hard about this anyway, since the movie's explanation for why they couldn't make a vaccine in the future (that they needed a sample of the virus before it mutated) does not make any sense either.

  • 1
    It might be possible to extract antibodies from someone’s blood and give them to a patient (Immunoglobulin therapy). This does not provide lasting protection, however; and if there is only one potential donor, that isn’t much. – chirlu Apr 3 '16 at 18:57
3

Antibodies are precisely-shaped proteins that bind to foreign molecules (in this case viruses) that have the "opposite" shape to themselves.

Vaccines are molecules that have the same shape as the virus and when injected into someone cause their body to make antibodies of the opposite shape, which will also recognise the original virus.

What you therefore need to make a vaccine is a sample of the virus (to copy or modify), rather than a sample of antibodies to the virus. Injecting Cole's antibodies into someone else may temporarily cure them, but it won't make them immune in the future as they won't have raised any anti-virus antibodies of their own.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.