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Immune system's bare essentials used to speedily detect drug targets
Date:10/31/2010

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have taken a less-is-more approach to designing effective drug treatments that are precisely tailored to disease-causing pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and cancer cells, any of which can trigger the body's immune system defenses.

In a report to be published in the latest issue of Nature Medicine online Oct. 31, researchers describe a new "epitope-mapping" laboratory test that within three weeks can pinpoint the unique binding site or epitope from any antigen where immune system T cells can most securely attach and attack invading germs or errant cells.

Knowing exactly where the best antigen-T-cell fit occurs at sites where short stretches of proteins, called peptides, bind and are displayed on the surface of antigen-processing immune system cells is a prerequisite for designing effective and targeted drug therapies, researchers say.

Identifying the best binding site, they say, should speed up cancer vaccine development, lead to new diagnostic tests that detect the first appearance of cancer cells, well before tumors develop, and sort out disorders that are difficult to diagnose, such as Lyme disease.

"Our new, simplified system reproduces what happens in the cells of the immune system when antigens from a pathogen first enter the body and need to be broken down into peptides to become visible to T cells, one of the two immune defender cell types," says immunologist Scheherazade Sadegh-Nasseri, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathology, biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Once T cells recognize an antigen, they latch on, become activated, and call for other immune system cells to enter the fight," adds Sadegh-Nasseri, the senior study investigator for the team of scientists who developed the new epitope-mapping process.

Sadegh-Nasseri says the team's new lab test takes a fraction of the time involved in current
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Contact: David March
dmarch1@jhmi.edu
410-955-1534
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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