Our immune system is our protection against foreign invaders like harmful bacteria and viruses. When our immune cells recognize a particle as "foreign," they launch an attack that results in responses like inflammation, antibody production, and other actions to disarm the potentially harmful particle. Unfortunately, our immune system can err and recognize benign foreign particles as dangerous - like pollen, animal dander, lactose, and others, resulting in allergies. The immune system can also recognize the body's own cells as foreign - resulting in autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and celiac disease (AAAAI). Fortunately, scientists at the Institute of Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna have been studying a way to reduce the development of allergies by increasing the activity of regulatory T cells.
Regulatory T cells are lymphocytes that respond to helper T cell activity, other immune cells that regulate adaptive immunity by activating other effector cells (Scandinavian Journal of Immunology). Regulatory T cells maintain the balance of immunological activity, ensuring recognition of the body's own cells while T helper cells patrol the body for foreign particles. Consequently, regulatory T cells play a primary role in preventing autoimmune disorders, suppressing allergic reactions, maintaining "maternal tolerance to the fetus," and protection of helpful bacteria of the microbiome.
The study in Vienna, lead by Dr. Winfried F. Pickl, utilized a novel animal model to show a connection between increased regulatory T cell activity and reduced susceptibility to developing allergies. The model consisted of "double transgenic, humanized mice" so that, according to Pickl, they could "simulate in an animal model what happens in the human body when there is contact with a human-relevant allergen."
The group from Vienna is presenting their initial findings at the European Congress of Immunology in Vienna, which started yesterday and concludes tomorrow. Pickl and the other scientists involved in the study were able to stimulate increased regulatory T cell activity by using Interleukin-2, a T cell growth factor, and an "anti-Interleukin-2 antibody." Pickl explains that the antibody "decreases the half-life of IL-2 and generally prolongs its effect."
Although these results are only from preliminary experiments, there is much promise for future preventative treatments. These therapies could potentially be life-saving for patients at high risk of developing severe allergies or autoimmune disorders due to family history of disease or inability to produce proper amounts of regulatory T cells, as well as patients with an impaired T cell count due to viral diseases like HIV.
Watch the video below to understand more the action of regulatory T cells as explained by Dr. Allison Bayer from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.