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News

St Jude researchers discover signalling molecule that may pave the way for cancer vaccines

St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital : 23 November, 2007  (Company News)
Researchers at St Jude Children's Research Hospital have discovered a new signalling molecule that prevents immune responses from running amok and damaging the body.
The finding could lead to the development of new treatments for cancer, using vaccines; for autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes; and for inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

The St Jude team discovered that specialised immune lymphocytes called regulatory T cells release a protein complex composed of two proteins called Ebi3 and Il12a. The complex acts like a brake on the activity of the aggressive immune cells called effector T lymphocytes. Manipulation of regulatory T cells is a key goal of immunotherapy.

The protein complex is one of a large group of signalling molecules called cytokines that cells use to communicate with each other. Since the immune system cytokines are called interleukins, the St Jude team named the protein interleukin-35 (IL-35). Most cytokines stimulate immune system cells; however, IL-35 is one of the few signalling molecules known to inhibit immune system activity.

'The maximal suppressive function of regulatory T cells depends on IL-35, so blocking IL-35 activity might reduce the ability of T cells to block anti-tumour immune responses,' said Dario Vignali, PhD, associate member in the St Jude Department of Immunology. 'Treatments that block IL-35 activity may make anti-cancer vaccines more effective and provide new therapeutic opportunities for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.'

'Our findings suggest that controlling levels of IL-35 in patients might one day allow clinicians to dial the immune response up or down depending on the needs of the patient,' said Lauren Collison, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Vignali's laboratory who contributed significantly to the project.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, a Cancer Center Support Grant and ALSAC , a St Jude Gephardt Postdoctoral Fellowship and an NIH Individual National Research Service Award, and the American Liver Foundation.
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