Immunity :: New light shed on immune system development

Research led by King’s scientists, and published online in the journal Nature, sheds new light on the development of the immune cells which are critical in fighting infection and some tumours. It may also provide clues to the mystery of why autoimmune diseases in women often go into remission during pregnancy.

T cells are the cells of the immune system that are critical for the recognition and eradication of infected cells and of some tumours. There are two main types of functional T cell which develop in the thymus – an organ located in the chest cavity. One type (known as the effector cell) attacks infected cells; the other (the regulatory cell) suppresses the exaggerated actions of the immune system. This type of cell protects the body from inflammatory damage during an infection and also suppresses autoimmune diseases such as Type I diabetes and arthritis.


The King’s team, led by Professor Adrian Hayday, and including Dr Daniel Pennington and Dr Bruno Silva-Santos, last year published the discovery that sets of immature T cells communicate with each other and influence each others’ development very early in their journey through the thymus. The researchers term this process ?trans-conditioning’. This latest study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, provides new insight into trans-conditioning. Quite unexpectedly, the team has demonstrated that the process appears to profoundly influence whether or not a maturing T cell will emerge from the thymus as an effector cell or a regulatory cell.

Professor Hayday, Head of the Division of Immunology, Infection & Inflammatory Disease at King’s, commented: ?This research could be clinically significant in that we may find a way to influence the trans-conditioning process. It may be possible to make the body produce effector T cells in a cancer patient or regulatory T cells in someone suffering from autoimmune disease.’

In addition, this new research may provide clues to the mystery of why autoimmune diseases in women often go into remission during pregnancy. The researchers suggest that trans-conditioning is less active during pregnancy, and therefore most T cells that emerge at that time will be regulatory. Professor Hayday added: ?Regulatory T cells prevent an over-active immune system from causing damage to the body. This may be one of the key steps in preventing the mother from rejecting the foetus growing inside her.’

The research was carried out at the King’s College London School of Medicine, co-led by Dr Daniel Pennington, a Wellcome Trust VIP awardee and now at Queen Mary College, London. Collaborating researchers were based at Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa, Lisbon; University College, London; Yale University School of Medicine; Institute for Animal Health; and Imperial College London.

King’s College London
King’s College London is the fourth oldest university in England with more than 13,700 undergraduates and nearly 5,600 graduate students in nine schools of study based at five London campuses. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK’s major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.

King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, international relations, medicine, nursing and the sciences, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to four Medical Research Council Centres ? more than any other university.

King’s is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of more than ?100 million, and has an annual turnover of more than ?363 million.


Pioneer of Oral Rehydration Therapy Receives Prince Mahidol Award

Dr. Richard Cash, credited with saving millions of lives by promoting the use of oral rehydration therapy to treat cholera and other diarrheal diseases, has been named a joint recipient of the 2006 Prince Mahidol Award for “exemplary contributions in the field of public health.”

Dr. Cash will receive the award from Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand at a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok in January 2007. Dr. Cash has been an HSPH faculty member in the Department of Population and International Health for 27 years, and has focused his work on infectious disease problems in the developing world, as well as on ethical issues in international health research.

Previous winners of the Prince Mahidol Award have included Dr. Margaret Chan, who was recognized for her work in curbing an avian influenza outbreak in the late 1990s (Dr. Chan has been announced as the next Director-General of the World Health Organization); Sir Richard Peto, whose work argued for the use of tamoxifen in the treatment of breast cancer; and Drs. Tore Godal and Adetokunbo Oluwole Lucas, who jointly won the award for their contribution toward the development of the special Program on Tropical Disease Research. See here for a full listing of previous winners.

The Prince Mahidol Award Foundation confers two international awards each year–in the fields of medicine and public health. Dr. Stanley Schultz was recognized this year in medicine for providing the scientific basis for the use of oral rehydration therapy solution.

In the field of public health, Dr. Cash was recognized with Drs. David Nalin and Dilip Mahalanabis for their contributions “to the application of the oral rehydration solution in the treatment of severe diarrhea worldwide, including Thailand. It is estimated that each year around 500 million packs of the oral rehydration solution is used in more than 60 developing countries, saving millions of lives around the world.”

Oral rehydration therapy, also known as oral rehydration solution, is a simple saltwater-glucose solution that helps replenish lost fluids during diarrheal illnesses. Inexpensive, the solution can be imbibed by patients and does not require an IV. The therapy was introduced and promulgated in the 1960s and 70s. Drs. Cash and Nalin were involved in the first clinical trial that demonstrated the practicality and usefulness of oral treatment for dehydration caused by diarrhea. Dr. Mahalanabis directed the first large-scale use of the solution in a disaster situation in refugee camps along the India/Bangladesh border in 1971.

The World Health Organization has reported that the mortality rate for children suffering from acute diarrhea has fallen from 5 million to 1.3 million deaths annually since adopting the therapy in 1978 as its primary tool to fight diarrhea.

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