Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Is it just me or is this potentially revolutionary?

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, Toronto, and Baltimore report today that infant heart transplant patients can fight off infections despite having a T-cell count comparable to full-blown AIDS patients.

Let me rephrase that: in these patients, who are receiving treatments that demolish their ability to produce T cells, an alternate--and unknown--immune pathway seems to be acting. But I'll let the abstract say it:

For cardiac transplantation in infants, T cells are depleted and the thymus is removed. These manipulations should cause profound defects in the T cell compartment. To test this concept, 20 subjects who underwent cardiac transplantation in infancy and healthy age-matched subjects were studied. The number of T cells in the blood was nearly normal in all subjects 1–10 years after surgery. However, newly generated T cells were undetectable in 10 recipients and 10-fold less than controls in 10, suggesting absence of thymic function. TCRbeta chain diversity, measured by a novel technique, was ~100-fold lower than controls. T cell function, deduced from levels of human herpesvirus 7 and response to hepatitis B immunization, were notably impaired. Yet cardiac transplant recipients were generally free of opportunistic infections. Our findings demonstrate a novel approach to measuring lymphocyte diversity and suggest that understanding how these subjects resist infection could yield important insights into immune fitness.

Now, I am not an immunologist, so this could just be one of those scenarios where I'm being overly impressed by something from another discipline. But doesn't this just sound interesting? I mean, all we really know is that we have patients who can resist infections that they should be physically incapable of resisting. If we can figure out what's acting to replace the missing T cells, there's a pretty widespread potential of immune disorders that are potentially treatable here.

(via EurekAlert)

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