Ironing Out Oxidative Stress

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A white blood cell, also known as a T cell, carries special structures on its surface with which to recognise specific pathogens. (Grapics: Blausen.com, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A balanced, non-GMO organic diet, exercise, meditation while identifying and removing stress enablers are key components for a healthy life.  Courtesy of Peter Rüegg @ ETH Zurich:

You’re up in the mountains, the snow is blindingly white, and the sun is blazing down from the sky: ideal skiing conditions – but any skiers carrying the herpes virus might also have to reckon with the onset of cold sores after their day out. Increased exposure to UV radiation releases free radicals in the body. These put the body under oxidative stress, which weakens the immune system. And that in turn allows the herpes virus to prosper.

Oxidative stress has become a major topic; not only is it implicated in many diseases, it may even be one of their causes. Other environmental influences besides UV radiation can also increase oxidative stress on the body, including air pollution, smoking and the consumption of alcohol, and not least infections. Again and again, the talk is of fighting these free (oxygen) radicals by supplementing our diet with the appropriate vitamins.

T cells divide after contact with the enemy

Researchers working with Manfred Kopf, a professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Health Sciences, took these questions as their starting point and have now identified a phenomenon that explains the effects of oxidative stress on immune cells.
Whenever a foreign body such as a virus or other pathogen enters our bodies, a certain class of immune cells – the T cells – jump into action, proliferating rapidly. One sub-class of these cells, the CD8+ T cells, eliminate the virus by killing cells it has infected. Other T cells, known as CD4+ T cells, coordinate the immune response to all kinds of pathogens. These are the generals in the immune system’s army.

But a week can pass before these T cells start to take their toll on a virus, because in the early stages of an infection too few T cells are able to recognise the specific pathogen. Only once they have had “enemy contact” do these few “scout” cells begin to divide, forming “clones” of themselves. With cells dividing every eight to twelve hours, it takes a few days to gather a strike force of cells in the hundreds of thousands: enough to overwhelm the infection. Continue reading

Breaking Down Cancer’s Defence Mechanisms

Courtesy of Cambridge University:

Researchers have identified how the ‘wall’ around cancer tumours functions and how to break it down, enabling the body’s own defences to reach and kill the cancer cells within.

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‘By enabling the body to use its own defences to attack cancer, this approach has the potential to greatly improve treatment of solid tumours.’ Doug Fearon

A possible new method for treating pancreatic cancer which enables the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells has been developed by researchers.

The method uses a drug which breaks down the protective barrier surrounding pancreatic cancer tumours, enabling cancer-attacking T cells to get through. The drug is used in combination with an antibody that blocks a second target, which improves the activity of these T cells.

Initial tests of the combined treatment, carried out by researchers at the University’s Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, resulted in almost complete elimination of cancer cells in one week. The findings, reported in the journal PNAS, mark the first time this has been achieved in any pancreatic cancer model. In addition to pancreatic cancer, the approach could potentially be used in other types of solid tumour cancers. Continue reading

Cancer meets its nemesis in reprogrammed blood cells

Courtesy of New Scientist:

Engineer immune cells to recognise tumour cells they would otherwise overlook and they call a halt to cancers we thought were incurable

Editorial: “Beating cancer by blocking off its escape routes”

“THE results are holding up very nicely.” Cancer researcher Michel Sadelain is admirably understated about the success of a treatment developed in his lab at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In March, he announced that five people with a type of blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) were in remission following treatment with genetically engineered immune cells from their own blood. One person’s tumours disappeared in just eight days.

Sadelain has now told New Scientist that a further 11 people have been treated, almost all of them with the same outcome. Several trials for other cancers are also showing promise.

What has changed is that researchers are finding ways to train the body’s own immune system to kill cancer cells. Until now, the most common methods of attacking cancer use drugs or radiation, which have major side effects and are blunt instruments to say the least.

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The latest techniques involve genetically engineering immune T-cells to target and kill cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells relatively unscathed. Continue reading