The map of connections of the immune system opens the way to new therapies

The map of connections of the immune system opens the way to new therapies

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An international scientific team has created a complete map of the network of connections that make up the human immune systemwhich could lead to new immunotherapies to treat cancer, infectious diseases and other conditions in which the immune response plays a role.

Researchers from the UK’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, ETH Zurich, and their collaborators show in this map, the first of its kind, they say, how immune cells throughout the body connect and communicate.

The research, details of which are published in the journal Nature, includes the discovery of many hitherto unknown interactions which, taken together, shed light on the organization of the body’s immune defenses.

This offers answers to long-standing questions about current immunotherapies already being used to treat patients, explains a statement from Wellcome Sanger, noting that this detailed, public map of the immune system could also be vital in identifying new therapies in the future.

The immune system is made up of specialized cellssome of which travel individually through the body to look for signs of injury or disease.

Once they detect a threat, they have to communicate the message to other cells to mount an effective immune response. One of the ways this cell-to-cell signaling is done is through cell surface proteins that bind to corresponding “receptor” proteins on the surface of other cells.

Until now, the medical and scientific communities only had an incomplete map of these receptor connections between all types of immune cells of the organism, according to the same sources.

A thorough understanding of the interactions between immune cells and how this communication fits into the whole body is vital to develop treatments that improve the immune system to fight the disease, known as immunotherapies.

These have already shown to have a great potential in some diseasesespecially in the case of certain cancers, but they only work well in certain groups of patients and for certain conditions.

Knowing the map of immune receptor connections could help explain why immunotherapies sometimes only work in a subset of patientsand to offer new targets to design future immunotherapies that can be extended to other patients.

It is also necessary to understand the cell-to-cell signals that occur in the immune system to prevent and treat autoimmune diseaseswhich occur when the body confuses internal signals and attacks itself.

To design this atlas, the researchers isolated and investigated a nearly complete set of surface proteins that physically bind to immune cells.

Then they used a lot of computational and mathematical analyzes to outline the map. Its creation has required years of technological advances to address a problem of this magnitude.

Each immune cell can have hundreds of different surface proteins and receptors, and the interactions involving these proteins are often so transient that it has been need to invent specialized methods to make it possible to assemble an accurate map.

Summarizing, Jarrod Shilts of Wellcome Sanger: “Meticulously isolating and analyzing each immune cell and its interactions with others has provided us with the first map of the conversations between all the immune cells in the body.”

“This is a big step in understanding the inner workings of the immune system and hopefully researchers around the world use it to help develop new therapies that work with the body’s defense mechanisms.

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