Swiss make important immune system discovery

Basel University researchers have discovered a new type of cell in the human body. Keystone

Scientists in Basel have made a key discovery that could provide a breakthrough in the treatment of viral and bacterial diseases.

This content was published on September 29, 2000 - 11:11

They have discovered a new population of cells called plasmacytoids. These migrate to a person's lymph nodes during a viral infection and have a primary function in fighting viral infections.

The findings appear in the October edition of the medical publication, Nature Immunology.

Marco Colonna, one of the scientists at Basel University that was involved in the research, explained the importance of the discovery to swissinfo: "We think this may shed light on the mechanism by which the organism fights viral infections, like HIV infections. These findings could help us to produce immunological and biological reagents to fight these infections."

Colonna added that the cells could be used as part of a therapy for some viral diseases to reinforce the response against viral infections.

"What we have found is that these cells produce a substance called 'type 1 interferon' which plays two key roles. It can block viral replication and can held key lymphocytes to produce an immune response against viruses."

Colonna warned against being too optimistic about the impact the findings could have on people with HIV/Aids. Nevertheless, he said: "It is an important discovery in understanding the mechanism by which the organism reacts against viruses. It therefore could be important in preparing drugs and biological reagents to fight the virus."

On the subject of cancer and tubercolosis Colonna was again cautiously optimistic.

"What we found was that these cells increase in a number of infections. Now we're looking into whether they are important in fighting cancer cells. We think these cells may have an important implication in the fight against tumours," he said.

Juliet Linley

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