The vertebrate immune system, capable of rapidly producing highly specific antibodies upon immunisation, has been used to produce murine monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) via immortalisation and isolation of antibody–secreting cells. These mAbs have had a profound impact in the fields of diagnostics and therapeutics. However, the therapeutic use of murine mAbs is complicated by their immunogenicity. To circumvent this immunogenicity, antibody engineering techniques which render murine mAbs more compatible with the human immune system have been devised. Over the last decade, the technique of antibody phage display, which facilitates the production of human mAbs, has been developed. This review serves as an introduction to antibody engineering, phage display and the development of antibody fragments into viable diagnostic and therapeutic reagents.

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