Researchers have identified a new member of the important B7 family of immune system “co-stimulators.” Co-stimulators are molecules that are capable of turning the immune system on or off — and in the process, profoundly affecting human health. Mayo Clinic researchers named this newest molecule B7-H4. It inhibits the action of T cells, the immune system warriors whose basic job is to attack invaders. Turning off T cells helps transplant patients accept foreign organs. But turning off T cells harms cancer patients — their tumors continue to grow without defensive attacks by T cells. The Mayo Clinic report appears in the June 17 issue of Immunity.
Researchers have discovered how to grow a little-understood type of human immune cell. The cells, known as T-regulatory cells type 1 (Tr1), are thought to turn off unnecessary immune reactions and to block the action of immune cells that otherwise would attack the body and cause dangerous inflammation. The findings are reported in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Nature.
Treatment with two medications that suppress the immune system, rituximab and cyclophosphamide, appears to have cured one woman of an otherwise untreatable case of the blood disease known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). The findings support the theory that TTP is an autoimmune disease, and not only provide insight into diagnosis and treatment, but also reveal clues about blood clotting and autoimmune diseases in general.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has announced the release of a comprehensive research plan from HHS’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fight autoimmune diseases, a collection of disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis that affect an estimated 14 to 22 million Americans. The plan will foster research to identify genetic, environmental and infectious causes of autoimmune diseases and to develop new treatments and prevention strategies.
A protein found in the eye and involved in its “immune privilege” has prevented and halted autoimmune eye disease in animal models and promises to aid in preventing and treating other autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and diabetes, according to scientists at the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard University. Immune privilege is a special property of the eye that allows the eye to protect itself without the inflammation caused by the body’s conventional immune response to injury and infection.