Revving up the Immune System Artifically

Our immune systems are the principal line of defense against infections and some cancerous growths. Now, using genetically-engineered mouse cells, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have developed a technique that artificially revs up the immune system.

Drs. Michel Sadelain and Jean-Baptiste Latouche ''established stable artificial antigen-presenting cells'' that can be used to stimulate immune cells of any patient, according to the report in the April issue of Nature Biotechnology.

Antigens are any of a variety of substances that the body 'sees' as foreign. In response to the presentation of an antigen, the immune system kicks into gear. When special receptors on the surface of immune cells called T cells bind to antigens, the cells are activated to both multiply and differentiate into several types of more specialized T cells. These cells then carry out a variety of defensive functions.

``We found that the introduction of six genes was sufficient to create a cell that effectively stimulates and amplifies human (killer T cells) that (destroy) melanoma cells in the laboratory,'' Sadelain told Reuters Health. ``To our surprise, these artificial antigen-presenting cells worked at least as well as dendritic cells, the most potent naturally-occurring antigen-presenting under experimental conditions used so far.''

In the current research, killer T cells appropriately recognized the antigen being presented on the mouse cells and ''vigorous (killer T cell) responses were induced,'' the authors explain.

There are advantages to using these artificial cells, Sadelain points out. The experimental cells are very stable and relatively easy to handle. ``Their use could potentially represent a considerable saving in time and effort in the generation of antigen-presenting cells,'' he explained.

The research team suggests that their findings may lead to new therapies against cancer. To further improve such therapy, they also hope to develop ``a system that could also permit (stimulation of) T cells against more than one antigen at a time,'' Sadelain said. SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology 2000;18:405-409

Story by Penny Stern, MD Reuters Health

Ann's NOTE: This is part of a general trend I have noted in which conventional doctors are looking at the immune system more and more. Much of alternative medicine is based on the idea of stimulating the immune system (an idea that has been laughed at in prior years).

It is good that there is more of a meeting of the minds on this issue.

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