Investigators have discovered that some type of protective system goes into action in some cases when a babys immune system is deficient. This discovery indicates a hidden safety net that might have far-reaching consequences for treating diseases of the immune system such as AIDS. The Mayo Clinic-led study was conducted with colleagues in Toronto and Baltimore, and is reported in the early online edition of the Feb. 1 Journal of Immunology.
The researchers studied 20 patients who as infants underwent heart transplantation and had their thymus removed. As a result the infants were deficient in T cells, the cells depleted in AIDS patients that are crucial to fighting viruses and cancer tumors. The researchers found that over a 10-year-period the infant transplant patients resisted the same infections that often kill adult AIDS patients. The transplant patients maintained their health even with low T cell counts. The finding could help improve treatments of AIDS, cancers and diseases of aging related to declining function of the immune system.
"We are very excited by this result," says Jeffrey Platt, M.D., the Mayo transplant researcher who led the team. "This will be the first step to discovering how to make the immune system work in patients who have severe defects in their immune systems or who have cancer."
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