Tuesday , March 2 2021

Immune system switch

Scientists from Vienna have found a mechanism that turns the immune system on or off. This could open new ways to treat cancer and treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Introducing the body's own weapons into tumors is the idea of ​​cancer immunotherapy. This approach was followed by the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) research group of the Austrian Academy of Sciences together with international colleagues. They have studied a substance that plays a very important role in human nerve dysfunction, dopamine, and hormone hormone building.

Two active ingredients regulate the immune system

The study shows that one of this acidity hormones, BH4, forms an immune system. Because BH4 translates T cells on and off, says biologist Shane Cron of IMBA, a research leader. "If BH4 is a lot, then T cells will ignite, are ready to fight and aggressive," says Cronin.

Solbiologist and his colleague at IMBA, Harvard University, and Max Planck Institute Heidelberg were able to identify two active substances that use this mechanism and thus regulate the immune system. "BH4 is already on the market with a different purpose," says Cronin. Other active ingredients were found and tested by researchers themselves. Now you can selectively select or disable T cells.

IMBA video research results

An important candidate for cancer treatment

This makes BH4 an important candidate for future cancer immunotherapists because activated T cells detect and fight against cancer cells. Preliminary experiments in mice have already been successful. Another drug discovered by Cron and his colleagues is quite the opposite: it regulates BH4 and causes the immune system to shrink.

Reducing BH4 can regulate overactive T cells that attack healthy cells in the body in autoimmune diseases, says Cronin. In inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, allergy and asthma, researchers had already succeeded in the mouse model. The new drug not only cut BH4 and thus T cells, but calmed the entire immune system. Both therapeutic approaches and autoimmune diseases and cancer patients are clinically tested in the next few years.

Possibly also as antidepressants

If the drugs are successful in patients, they can come on the market after a few years. Meanwhile, Cronin wants to continue its research in another direction: Because BH4 affects serotonin's "happiness hormone" and hence humans' mood, the cell biologist wants to study the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system more closely.

"Maybe we can also increase serotonin levels in the brain with the same or similar drug," says Cronin. This not only could have progressed in the treatment of depression, but also in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's, as well as the scientist's hope.

Marlene Nowotny, Ö1-Wissenschaft

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