Part II: Stem Cells - The White Knights

B-cells can change the type of antibody, a specialized immune protein, they make to the one specifically needed for the fight. Once they’ve done that, they have only two fates to choose between: to become a memory cell or a plasma cell. B-memory cells make sure the immune system can respond faster the next time it finds the same invader; they remember the enemy. Plasma cells are specifically designed to deal with the normal, regular everyday onslaught of germs, fungi, viruses, toxins, slivers, parasites – the list goes on and on. If under attack, B-cells are told by chemical messengers to make more plasma cells; plasma cells in turn become the antibody factories cranking out millions of antibodies specific to the germ, invader or virus.

Plasma cells produce specific classes or clones of immunoglobulins, another word for antibodies, each somewhat different in their chemical makeup and function. (These antibodies are called IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD, and IgE – Gamma, Alpha, Mu, Delta, and Epsilon, respectively.) The IgG-clonal class of immunoglobulin is the most common antibody found in the blood; it is the antibody most often affected in multiple myeloma.

This is the point in our story where myeloma enters the picture. Myelos means marrow in Greek; oma as an English suffix meaning tumour.