BIRMINGHAM, England, April 20 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Birmingham, in England, say they've uncovered a unique pathway that plays a central role in regulating the body's immune system.
By better understanding the pathway and the manner in which pathogenic immune cells are deployed during an inflammatory response, researchers hope to improve the ways chronic disease like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are treated.
The immune system is a powerful force, capable of ridding the body of infection and disease. But the body's immune response comes at a cost. Side effects like inflammation and swelling are just a few of the visible consequences of an immune response. When the immune system overreacts to relatively harmless stimuli, the consequences can be annoying, painful or even deadly. Strong allergic reactions -- whether to pollen or peanut butter -- are an example of this delicate reality.
In other words, the immune system is both a blessing and a curse. For this reason, it must be tightly regulated.
Doctors at the University of Birmingham say the pathway they've discovered is key in regulating exactly how great of a response is exacted upon each physiological problem. The pathway, researchers explain, involves a key molecule which dictates how and when immune cells are employed.
For patients whose immune regulation is lacking, the introduction of this molecule could prove beneficial. Through their research, scientists were able to show that this special molecule, known as a B cell–derived peptide, declines naturally as consequence of aging. Patients with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders, may simply be losing the molecule at an advanced rate.
"Our discovery of this new pathway is very exciting," Ed Rainger, a professor at Birmingham and expert on chronic inflammation, said in a press release. "Not only does it reveal new ways in which our bodies control inflammation, it also indicates that we may be able design new drugs to reverse the disease and age specific loss of this pathway."
"The fact that the new pathway is relevant to both diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, which are quite different diseases, implies a broad applicability to many chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases," Rainger added.
Now comes the task of applying this discovery to the development of new drugs and therapies. Researchers are hopeful that such developments are just around the corner.
The study was published this week in the journal Nature Medicine.