Discovery of a 'master switch' within the immune system

Researchers Professor Graham Lord, from The University of Manchester and colleagues have found that a specific part of the immune system could have the tools that may help in the therapy of some major diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune diseases. The results of their findings were published in the latest issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation this week.

The team of researchers found that there was a molecular pathway in the body that is regulated by a molecule - known as microRNA-142. The decade long study found that this microRNA-142 can control Regulatory T cells and this can modulate and change the immune system and stop autoimmune diseases. This molecule was found in abundance in the immune system.

Illustration Credit: Connect world / Shutterstock
Illustration Credit: Connect world / Shutterstock

Professor Lord earlier from King’s College, London and now Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at The University of Manchester, said in a statement, “Autoimmune diseases often target people in the prime of their life creating a significant socio-economic burden on them. Sometimes, the effect can be devastating, causing terrible hardship and suffering. But these findings represent a significant step forward in the understanding of the immune system and we believe many people worldwide may benefit.” The study was in collaboration with Professor Richard Jenner at UCL.

Autoimmune disease in fact affect the human body is several ways and a large number of diseases have their basis on autoimmune mechanisms they explain. The authors explain that there are Regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the body that regulate the excessive immune activity. In cases of autoimmune diseases Tregs are seen in low levels and the immune system goes into an overdrive and attacks healthy tissues and organs.

Until now it was unclear how Treg activity could be regulated. The molecule microRNA-142 could act as a master switch that could regulate Treg function, explain the authors. Professor Richard Jenner assisted with the computational side of the study. He explained, “We were able to trace the molecular fingerprints of this molecule across other genes to determine how it acted as such a critical regulator.”

Professor Lord added, “Scientists over the past decade or so have developed therapies which are able to modulate different pathways of the immune system. We hope that this new discovery will lead to the development of new ways to treat autoimmunity, infectious diseases and cancer and we are incredibly excited about where this may lead.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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