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Natural Killer Cells May Help Protect Against New Strains of Influenza Virus

*Swine Flu Outbreak Highlights Influenza Virus Research at Drexel University*

PHILADELPHIA, May 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Research conducted at Drexel University has demonstrated the importance of natural killer, or NK, cells in controlling primary influenza virus infection. These findings may help us understand how the body's immune system may best respond to the newly emergent swine flu.

While no studies have been conducted on the specific H1N1 strain of influenza virus referred to as "swine flu," Drexel researchers have asked the question "How does the immune system respond the first time it encounters a new strain of influenza virus?"

Using a mouse model of primary influenza virus infection, Dr. Barry W. Ritz, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology of Drexel University, and colleagues have demonstrated that NK cells, specialized white blood cells that participate in innate or non-specific immunity, help control influenza virus early during an infection. Specifically, the studies demonstrate that NK cells are essential in controlling lung virus titers early during an influenza virus infection and that NK cell function decreases with old age.

Dr. Ritz: "NK cells are among the earliest responders to influenza virus infection and help control the infection, and because NK cells are non-specific in their response to influenza virus infection, they respond similarly no matter the source of the infection."

Dr. Ritz and colleagues have also studied the importance of nutritional status and specific nutritional interventions to support NK cell activity in response to influenza virus infection.

Dr. Ritz: "Certain nutritional interventions, or nutraceuticals, appear to have a positive effect on the NK cell response to influenza virus infection."

For example, Dr. Ritz has published several papers in the peer-reviewed journals Nutrition Research, Journal of Nutrition and Nutritional Reviews demonstrating that supplementation with a medicinal mushroom based compound called Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC) increases the non-specific NK cell response to primary influenza virus infection, increases survival, and results in a less severe infection. This work was sponsored by Amino Up Chemical Company, Sapporo, Japan. Similarly, Dr. Ritz is currently studying the potential NK cell supportive properties of a bovine colostrum preparation, supported by La Belle, Inc., Bellingham, WA.

Dr Ritz cautions: "It remains unknown what, if any, effects these nutritional interventions would have on the immune response to swine flu."

About the Department of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences, Drexel University: The Department of Biology at Drexel University offers studies in wide-ranging aspects of the life sciences leading to Baccalaureate, Master's, and Doctoral degrees. Our 31 faculty members and scientists are passionately involved in teaching and conducting research in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Ecology and Environmental Science, Organism Physiology and Development, Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, and Nutrition and Food.

About Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC): AHCC is a unique natural compound derived from the hybridization of several subspecies of medicinal mushrooms. AHCC is utilized by several hundred hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout Asia as a complimentary dietary supplement for incoming patients to help reduce the risk of hospital viruses and infections and it is used by tens of thousands of individuals around the world for daily immune support. More than 20 research papers on AHCC have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

About Bovine Colostrum: Colostrum is the first lacteal secretions produced by a mammal prior to and just after giving birth. Colostrum is full of rich nutrients and immune factors that set babies on the path to health. Bovine colostrum is extremely similar to human colostrum in terms of digestibility and nutrients. At the same time, scientific studies have shown that colostrum's highly prized immune and growth factors are found in greater quantities in bovine colostrum than in human.

    Nogusa S, Gerbino J, Ritz BW.  Low-dose supplementation with active hexose
       correlated compound improves the immune response to acute influenza
       infection in C57BL/6 mice. Nutr Res. 2009;29(3):139-43.
    Ritz BW. Supplementation with active hexose correlated compound increases
       survival following infectious challenge in mice. Nutr Rev.
    Ritz BW, Aktan I, Nogusa S, Gardner EM. Energy restriction impairs natural
       killer cell function and increases the severity of influenza infection
       in young adult C57BL/6 male mice. J Nutr. 2008;138:2269-2275.
    Nogusa S, Ritz BW, Kassim SH, Jennings SR, Gardner EM. Characterization of
       age-related changes in natural killer cells during primary influenza
       infection in mice. Mech Age Devel. 2008;129:223-30.
    Ritz BW, Nogusa S, Ackerman EA, Gardner EM. Supplementation with Active
       Hexose Correlated Compound increases the innate immune response of
       young mice to primary Influenza Infection. J Nutr. 2006;136:2868-73.

SOURCE AHCC Research Association
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