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New immune cell found to be a key to inflammatory diseases

HOUSTON - The molecular roots of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as asthma, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis (MS) have been discovered by a team of researchers led by The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. They say their findings may point to ways to effectively treat these diseases - if not stop them before they start.

In a lead article in the November issue of Nature Immunology (released online on Oct. 2), the scientists report finding a novel type of "T helper" cell they say is the culprit for initiating chronic inflammation and autoimmunity in a variety of body tissues. This newly described T cell - which they call inflammatory TH cells (or THi) - produces interleukin 17 (IL-17), a potent cytokine that researchers have already linked to an immune system gone awry.

"We suspected that IL-17 is a player in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, but we didn't understand where IL-17 came from before this finding," says the study's lead investigator, Chen Dong, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Immunology.

"Now we have discovered the source of IL-17 and also have solidly demonstrated that these are the crucial cells that regulate tissue inflammation in autoimmune disease and asthma," he says. "These findings suggest that shutting down the activity of these THi cells might stop chronic inflammatory diseases from developing in the first place."

He adds that while such drugs are years away from development and clinical trials, agents that block IL-17 could represent an effective treatment, based on these results.

Dong and four other M. D. Anderson researchers collaborated with scientists from the University of Washington, the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

While the findings have no immediate relevance to the field of oncology, it is known that cancer can arise from inflammatory processes. Further understanding of how the immune system
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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-794-1584
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
2-Oct-2005


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