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Master gene that switches on disease-fighting cells identified by scientists
Date:9/13/2009

The master gene that causes blood stem cells to turn into disease-fighting 'Natural Killer' (NK) immune cells has been identified by scientists, in a study published in Nature Immunology today. The discovery could one day help scientists boost the body's production of these frontline tumour-killing cells, creating new ways to treat cancer.

The researchers have 'knocked out' the gene in question, known as E4bp4, in a mouse model, creating the world's first animal model entirely lacking NK cells, but with all other blood cells and immune cells intact. This breakthrough model should help solve the mystery of the role that Natural Killer cells play in autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some scientists think that these diseases are caused by malfunctioning NK cells that turn on the body and attack healthy cells, causing disease instead of fighting it. Clarifying NK cells' role could lead to new ways of treating these conditions.

The study was carried out by researchers at Imperial College London, UCL and the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research.

Natural Killer cells a type of white blood cell - are a major component of the human body's innate, quick-response immune system. They provide a fast frontline defence against tumours, viruses and bacterial infections, by scanning the human body for cells that are cancerous or infected with a virus or a bacterial pathogen, and killing them.

NK cells - along with all other types of blood cell, both white and red - are continuously generated from blood stem cells in the bone marrow over the course of a person's lifetime. The gene E4bp4 identified in today's study is the 'master gene' for NK cell production, which means it is the primary driver that causes blood stem cells to differentiate into NK cells.

The researchers behind today's study, led by Dr Hugh Brady from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial Colle
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Contact: Danielle Reeves
danielle.reeves@imperial.ac.uk
44-078-038-86248
Imperial College London
Source:Eurekalert

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