Contagion | 3 of 5 | Big Data || Radcliffe Institute
'Tired' T Cells: HIV Infection Possibly Curtailed By a Certain Protein
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Protein Identified that Could Help Immune System Fight HIV
Viruses pose a particular threat to health, and medical science continues to battle against the stronghold viruses seem to have over our own immune systems. This is particularly true in the case of some chronic diseases. The reason for this is that many chronic diseases caused by viruses tend to disable certain aspects of the immune system. An example of this can be seen with HIV. While the fight against these organisms has currently been slow-going, recent research has discovered a potential breakthrough in how HIV and other illnesses are treated.
When a virus invades the body, it attacks part of the immune system. T cells, for example, are a key line of defense. The immune system uses these cells to find and destroy invaders. If HIV enters the body, the virus attacks these special fighters and eventually immobilizes them, making it then free to go about multiplying even further. This is especially true in the case of chronic illness, primarily because the struggle goes on for so long—for years, even—that the T cells become exhausted. At that point, they are unable to perform their duties. The good news is that researchers have been able to identify a protein that could be the key to reactivating the tired T-cells.
In a lab experiment, a group of T cells was exhausted via exposure to a certain virus. The proteins inside the T cells were then examined after they stopped performing their different functions. These were then compared to a group of healthy, highly functioning T cells. Upon comparing the results, scientists found that there were some noticeable differences. One protein in particular, Sprouty-2, was seen in larger amounts in the tired cells. Researchers decided to see if reducing the amount of this protein would help re-energize the cell, a test that garnered positive results: The T cells then were able to recover some of their lost functions. Next, an experiment was done to see if the same thing could happen to T cells that had been fighting an HIV infection. Blood samples were examined to see if Sprouty-2 was present, and sure enough, it was. This, along with another protein, was reduced. The T cells then showed the same promise of reactivation as they did in the lab study.
Researchers are hoping that this discovery will lead to better treatment options for HIV and other chronic illnesses caused by viruses.
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