Scientists 'invigorate' tired immune cells

Sept. 16, 2008 at 2:14 PM

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've found a way to invigorate the body's immune cells that often become exhausted and ineffective while battling chronic infections.

Wistar Institute researchers in Philadelphia said they found a way to restore vigor to the killer T cells by blocking a key receptor on their surface. That finding, the scientists said, might advance the development of new therapies for fighting diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and cancer.

The researchers said they found using an antibody to block the receptor, known as programmed death-1, or PD-1, dramatically restored immunity in chronically infected mice. Furthermore, they discovered a method to distinguish between T cells that can be revitalized in such a manner from those that can't.

Assistant Professor E. John Wherry, who led the study, said the findings will help researchers develop PD-1 blocking agents, and also provide a way to select patients who might benefit most from such novel drugs.

The research appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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