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PITTSBURGH, September 24, 2018 – Organs affected by autoimmune disease could be fighting back by “exhausting” immune cells that cause damage using methods similar to those used by cancer cells to escape detection, according to a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The conclusions, based on studies in mouse models of systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) – referred to as lupus – could explain why autoimmune diseases may take a long time to cause significant organ damage. They could also explain how widely used cancer immunotherapy drugs can have deleterious autoimmune side effects on normal organs.

“These findings really turn our current understanding of autoimmune tissue damage on its head and suggest that we could more effectively treat these diseases if we can develop targeted methods to enhance the body’s natural ability to tune down the immune system,” said senior author Mark Shlomchik, M.D., Ph.D., UPMC endowed professor and chair, Department of Immunology, Pitt School of Medicine, and an investigator at the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center.

In autoimmune diseases like lupus, immune cells that normally protect against invaders, such as bacteria or cancer cells, instead

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