Currently, NK cells isolated from donated blood are sometimes used to treat cancer patients, but the effectiveness of donated cells is limited because NK cells can be slightly different from person to person. Dr Brady explains: "If increased numbers of the patient's own blood stem cells could be coerced into differentiating into NK cells, via drug treatment, we would be able to bolster the body's cancer-fighting force, without having to deal with the problems of donor incompatibility."
Dr Brady and his colleagues at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research proved the pivotal role E4bp4 plays in NK production when they knocked the gene out in a mouse model. Without E4bp4 the mouse produced no NK cells whatsoever but other types of blood cell were unaffected. As well as proving their hypothesis about the function of the E4bp4 gene, this animal model will allow medical researchers, for the first time, to discover if NK cell malfunction is behind a wide range of medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, inflammatory conditions, persistent viral infections, female infertility and graft rejection.
Dr Brady explains: "Since shortly after they were discovered in the 1970s some scientists have suspected that the vital disease-fighting NK cells could themselves be behind a number of serious medical conditions, when they malfunction. Now finally, with our discovery of the NK cell master gene and subsequent creation of our mouse model, we will be able to find out if the progression of these diseases is impeded or aided by the removal of NK cells from the equation. This will solve the often-debated question of whether NK cells are always the 'good guys', or if in certa
|Contact: Danielle Reeves|
Imperial College London