News Stories

On Off Switch for Immune System?

Not everyone's immune system is the same, but no matter how yours works, if it's causing you problems with diseases like cancer and diabetes, scientists may be able to find a way to switch that part of it OFF.

Recent studies suggest that intentionally infecting people who have auto immune disease (in which the body attacks itself) with parasites relapse rates in people with diseases like MS, lupus and fibromyalgia.

Researchers are placing tiny hookworm larvae on the skin of 32 volunteers with MS, allowing the worms to burrow down and infect them, in order to find out if the parasites boost numbers of a set of newly discovered immune cells, known as regulatory B cells. His team hopes that boosting B regs might provide new opportunities for treating autoimmune diseases, while inhibiting them could be a new way to treat cancer and other complex diseases.

Scientists are starting to realize that male and female immune systems are different. Researcher Sabra Klein has explored the differences in the immune systems of men and women and how these differences can impact disease. She says, "There is a growing appreciation within the scientific community that the immune systems of men and women differ, which impacts development of infectious diseases. While it is known that infectious diseases affect males more frequently and intensely, the heightened immunity that females experience also makes them more vulnerable to developing autoimmune diseases."

In New Scientist, Linda Geddes quotes researcher Padraic Fallon as saying, "The race is now on to identify drugs that might boost B regs in people with autoimmune diseases or suppress them in people who have cancer," meaning that a new day may finally be dawning for that dreaded disease.

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