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Recombinant protein may play key role in treating immunocompromised patients

In a promising new advance in vaccine development, scientists have identified a protein fragment that is exceptionally potent in eliciting an immune response against infected cells and cancer cells. When scientists injected a vaccine containing this fragment into mice lacking a healthy immune system, the animals were able to mount a cellular immune response despite their compromised immune system.

"If this recombinant vaccine behaves the same way in humans, the findings will have profound implications for developing safe vaccines to immunize similarly immunocompromised humans such as AIDS patients," says Dr. Richard Young, Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Results from the study will be published in the January 17 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

When germs enter the body, the immune system responds in two ways. One arm of the immune system, led by immune cells called B cells, works mainly by secreting antibodies into the bodys fluids. These antibodies seek and destroy the germs circulating in the bloodstream. However, antibodies are useless when it comes to penetrating cells. The task of attacking cells infected by viruses or deformed by cancer falls to the second arm of the immune system, led by immune cells called T cells. The T cells that home in on infected cells or cancer cells and destroy them are called cytotoxic T cells or CTLs.

Until now, however, researchers had thought that CTLs could only be activated when another class of T cells called CD4 T cells are present. However, immunocompromised patients, such as AIDS patients, lack the critical CD4 cells.

"Our study shows that stress proteins are potent stimulators of the immune system, even when CD4 T cells are not present, so this strategy holds great promise for immunizing not only patients with normal immune systems, but also patients lacking a healthy immune system," says Dr. Young.

The fragment with this potent imm
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Contact: Seema Kumar
kumar@wi.mit.edu
617-258-6153
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
16-Jan-2000


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