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article imageNew discovery finds switch for immune system to fight cancer, viruses

By Paul Wallis     Jul 11, 2008 in Health
A protein called HS1 has been found to be the trigger for a range of immune cells called Natural Killer (NK) cells. The protein may be able to control immune responses to disease. It’s also potentially useful for autoimmune diseases, including diabetes.
The NK cells’ relationship with HS1 has been largely confirmed by research.
The significance of this discovery is hard to overstate. The immune system’s apparent inability to respond, or poor response, to some diseases has been a mystery for a while. The ability of many diseases to deceive the immune system has been more annoying than mystifying.
Now, there’s a chance that the right button to wake up the immune system has finally been found. The potential of the NK cells as in-house security is undeniable.
Science Daily:
(Researcher) Butler decided to see what would happen to NK cells in human blood samples if he turned down their ability to make HS1. The resulting cells were severely disabled: They couldn't effectively pursue target cells, bind to them or prepare to kill them.
Prior research by other scientists had revealed that when NK cells are in motion or attacking a target, HS1 has chemical modifications attached to it at specific points. Giving the NK cells normal HS1 restored their lost functions, but when researchers gave the NK cells HS1 where these attachment points had been altered, the cells were selectively disabled. Changing one attachment point prevented them from pursuing target cells, while changing the other impaired their ability to bind to targets and kill them.
There’s a catch. The NK cells are capable of damaging tissues. However, HS1 seems to have that problem solved, too. Used as a control, it switches the NK cells on and off at the right times.
The interaction with other proteins is one of the more fascinating parts of the research, another new frontier in medicine. HS1 could perhaps even work as a preventative against early cancers:
"NK cells are very good at nipping early cancers in the bud," says (senior research author) Cooper. "If we can better understand how they're activated, this could lead us to ways to make them better killers of cancers and cells infected by viruses and other invaders."
More research is required, but so far the story is that science has found a potentially invaluable weapon against some of humanity’s worst enemies.
More about Immunology, Cells, Hs1 protein
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