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Researchers get a control over immune system

Thursday, October 23, 2003
Times of India

A breakthrough discovery by a researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, will enable millions of people worldwide, who suffer from auto-immune diseases like HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, to control their immune responses.

Wilfred Jefferies, a professor at UBC's Biotechnology Laboratory, has discovered and characterised the mechanics of a cellular pathway that triggers immune responses.

He and his team have also uncovered a specialised cell substructure, or organelle, that dictates exactly how the immune system will be activated.

"This discovery opens the door to the immune system control room," says Jefferies, who is also a member of UBC's Biomedical Research Centre. "We've found a mechanism that appears to act like a dial -- it can turn immune system response up or down."

Jefferies believes that it will take about five years for scientists to use this information to create new therapies -- such as medication or vaccines -- to regulate immune responses in humans.

The findings have enormous implications for patients because treatment may be targeted by adjusting the "dial", says Jefferies. Immune responses may be increased to fight infection or reduced to help the body accept transplanted tissue or organs.

The work was recently published online in Nature Immunology and will be the topic of an editorial when the journal appears on newsstands in November.

The research findings can be used immediately to test exactly how the immune system responds to a variety of pathogenic organisms, including bacteria, viruses and tumours, says Jefferies.

The immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances such as microorganisms, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person. Immune system disorders are conditions, where the immune response is over-active, reduced or absent.

Copyright © 2003, Times of India