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Powerful technologies probe innate immunity

A comprehensive and detailed picture of innate immunity--the human body's first line of defense against disease--is the goal of scientists funded by a recently awarded five-year, $24-million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, CA, the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle, and Rockefeller University in New York are using techniques that straddle the divide between biology and information science to fathom the workings of innate immunity. Knowledge generated could help scientists develop treatments for septic shock, certain autoimmune disorders and diseases caused by potential agents of bioterrorism.

Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation, notes, "The collaborators at TSRI, ISB and Rockefeller University have complementary expertise that is most impressive."

"Our goal is to develop an encyclopedia of innate immune system activity," says Richard J. Ulevitch, Ph.D., head of TSRI's immunology department and the project's principal investigator.

As its name indicates, innate immunity is inborn and provides an all-purpose defense against invasion. Innate immune system cells, including certain skin cells called Langerhans cells, arrive soon after foreign elements are detected. Some system components, called macrophages, find and engulf microorganisms, while others release chemicals that kill the organism directly. Still other cells begin recruiting specialized immune cells to the region.

Dr. Ulevitch and his co-investigators face a daunting task--identifying the thousands of genetic changes, proteins generated and biochemical pathways triggered by encounters between innate immune system cells and infectious agents. Unlike the highly specific antibodies, which are produced in almost infinite variety and which match a particular disease organism like a key in
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Contact: Anne A. Oplinger
aoplinger@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
9-Jan-2003


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