immune system

Two thymus glands fast-track immune defences

Baby wallaby photos available

Until now, it was a mystery why many marsupials have two thymuses—key organs in the immune system—instead of the one typical of other mammals. Now postdoctoral researcher Dr Emily Wong from the University of Sydney and her colleagues have found that the two organs are identical, which suggests why they are there. [click to continue…]

The human body incorporates multiple fail-safe mechanisms to protect it against the “friendly fire” from its immune system known as autoimmune disease, Charis Teh and colleagues at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at the Australian National University have found.

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HIV can hide out in the brain, protected from the immune system and antiviral drugs, Dr Lachlan Gray and his colleagues at Monash University and the Burnet Institute have found. [click to continue…]

Drinking soy milk or soy-based formula does not trigger peanut allergy in children, researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have found. Their work challenges the results of an influential previous study.

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Fats trigger immune defence

14 August 2007

in 2007

Synchrotron light delivers Nature paper for young scientist

Natalie Borg and colleagues from Monash and Melbourne universities have shown for the first time how the body’s immune defence system can be triggered by fats, sugars and other biological compounds, not just by proteins. The research, published recently in Nature, opens the way to potential new treatments for whole areas of disease such as infections, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile-onset diabetes and some types of cancer.

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RESEARCHERS in Sydney have discovered that an enzyme only found in immune cells plays a key role in promoting rheumatoid arthritis. The work raises the possibility of new and better treatments for the painful and debilitating condition, which affects about one in a thousand Australians of all ages.

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Fighting septic shock

8 August 2006

in 2006

A potential new treatment for septic shock and other inflammatory diseases has been discovered by Monash Institute researchers.

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A new system for directing radiation to target cells has been developed in Melbourne. The new targeting system has the potential to specifically destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissues.

The new targeting concept, for which an international patent is pending, uses a special class of radioactive atoms for which the radiation damage is confined to the molecules immediately adjacent to the radioactive atom.

The cell-killing effect is maximised by directing the radiation to the genetic material (DNA) of the target cell, with little effect on neighbouring cells.

“We expect that our targeting system will be particularly useful for small clusters of cancer cells, such as those that spread throughout the body when a cancer becomes more advanced,” says Dr Tom Karagiannis, research officer with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where the system was devised.

Conventional cancer therapies such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have resulted in a steady decline in cancer mortality rates over the years.  Only chemotherapy has the potential to be effective when the cancer has spread throughout the body, but often it is not effective.

Latest figures from the World Health Organization show that about 50 percent of cancer patients still die in developed countries and about 80 percent die in developing countries.

A unique feature of the cancer targeting system is the highly focussed damage caused by the radioactive isotopes used – most of the radiation damage is within a distance of only a few millionths of a millimetre.  This means they can kill cancer cells without causing significant damage to normal cells.

The new technology combines knowledge from a wide range of scientific disciplines, including radiation biology, chemistry and immunology, Dr Karagiannis says.  The key ingredient is a complex composite drug, made by attaching the radioactive atom to a DNA-binding molecule, which in turn is linked to a cancer-targeting protein such as an antibody.

“Our radiolabelled DNA-binding drug alone provided a very efficient ‘molecular bomb’ for destroying cells,” says Dr Karagiannis. “But it could not discriminate between cancer cells and healthy cells.”

To make a ‘smarter’ drug, researchers took advantage of the fact that many cancer cells express high levels of certain proteins on their cell surface. Antibodies that bind specifically to these surface proteins were used as vehicles to target the lethal damage to cancer cells.

“Our strategy builds on the growing interest in antibodies as cancer therapeutics,” says Associate Professor Roger Martin, Tom’s supervisor who has been working on the project concept for the past three decades.

“There are a currently only a handful of such anticancer-antibodies that have been approved for therapy and many others that are in clinical trials.”

Proof-of-principle studies with the new targeting system have yielded very promising results with cell cultures, but a commercial partner is required for further development.

Tom is one of 13 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Adelaide research shows way to pain prediction test

There’s a global pain epidemic, despite the availability of various drug and non-drug treatments. A breakthrough by Australian researchers may lead to a new era of pain control.

“We still don’t fully understand pain,” says Mark Hutchinson from the University of Adelaide. He has discovered a strong link between our immune system and how we feel pain. His results, published this month in the journal Pain, could revolutionise the prevention and control of pain.

“The brain and nerves were traditionally thought to control pain signalling. While neurons are vital to pain, our experience with pain medications led us to investigate what role the immune system might play in pain,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“85% of the cells in the brain are immune-like cells and I had an idea these cells might be involved in pain control.”

Mr Hutchinson’s research led to the discovery of a simple blood test that uses morphine to produce a response in the collected immune cells which can be used to predict pain tolerance.

“A simple blood test is much easier than asking for a brain tissue sample.”

“While the science behind the blood test remains a mystery to us, we believe it is possible our test reflects the activity of brain immune cells.  We appear to have stumbled across a biological pain dimmer switch that is controlled by the immune system.”

The finding may lead to the development of new pain treatments targeting both the immune system and the brain.

Pain and the associated suffering, is a global health problem, costing society in excess of A$12billion per annum in Australia and US$100billion in USA.

“Our discovery will initially accelerate pain research focussing on the way the immune system controls pain. Subsequent research will then be required to further develop the pain blood test and new pain medications,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“This research has opened a window into the brain, which will enable us to significantly expand our understanding of how we feel pain and why some people feel pain more. Furthermore, our findings may help to explain the variable response people have to the available pain medications and treatments,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“We have to thank our volunteers who altruistically participated in our studies and put themselves through several very painful close encounters with very very cold water during the pain tests.”

Researchers at the Howard Florey Institute have discovered a new gene in the lining of arteries that makes them thicken or crack causing reduced blood flow which may lead to heart attacks, stroke or impotence. [click to continue…]

As we breathe, lung movements could be killing the very cells we need for gas exchange. Flinders University researcher Dr Yasmin Edwards and her colleagues have discovered that macrophages, best known for their role in scavenging dead cells, may actually prevent living cells from dying by producing a protective gas. [click to continue…]

Australian Breakthrough promises vaccines for ‘difficult’ diseases

Scientists all over the world have been battling with the problem of HIVvaccines for almost a decade. But now, a new “polytope” technology from the CRC for Vaccine Technology is being applied to HIV and many other diseases.. [click to continue…]

New research by an Australian student reveals the code our bodies use to control our immune systems. Her work could have tremendous medical benefits.

Unlocking this code represents a dramatic step forward in the fight to prevent autoimmune disease, allergies and to improve vaccines. [click to continue…]

Most transplants need immunosuppressive drugs but livers often don’t . Why and how can we use this knowledge? [click to continue…]