Immunologists honor a molecular pathfinder

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Exploring the intricacies of T cells, Chen Dong uncovered an unexpected new molecular route in the adaptive immune system.  Blocking the path might  prevent autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.   Following the path could direct a powerful immune response against cancer.

Dong, a professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Immunology, will be honored by his peers for his role defining this pivotal molecular cascade and his contributions to understanding T cells -- white blood cells that guide adaptive immune system attacks against invading microbes and parasites.  The American Association of Immunologists will bestow its AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award at Immunology 2009, the AAI's annual meeting May 8-12.

T cells, or T lymphocytes, bind to antigens, an act that converts the T cell to a T helper cell which secretes signaling molecules to launch an appropriate immune response.  Normally, T cells are tolerant of their fellow cells, Dong notes.   When they decide that self-tissues are the enemy, autoimmune disease results.

In a Nature Immunology paper, Dong and colleagues reported  T helper cell 17 (Th 17) produces the inflammatory molecule interleukin-17, which they also showed is the key culprit in autoimmune and inflammatory disease.  Before Dong's team and another based in Alabama independently discovered Th 17, scientists believed there were only two types of T helper cells, Th 1 and Th 2.

Connecting the dots between IL-17 and the new Th 17 opened up one of the hottest fields in biological research, presenting a new target for novel drugs.  Since then, Dong and colleagues have published a series of articles further defining the Th 17 pathway.  Clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis are under way based on Dong's work.  The Nature Immunology paper has been cited more than 540 times by scientists in the field.

 Dong's  lab also is exploring ways to turn IL-17 autoimmunity against tumors. Early data from mouse model experiments has been encouraging.  Dong also directs his department's new Center for Inflammation and Cancer.   "The idea is to improve good inflammatory responses against cancer and dampen the chronic 'bad' inflammation associated with many tumors," he notes.


1 Comment

I have strong family history of cancers along with autoimmune diseases. I Have had autoimmune disease since childhood and possibly sjogrens at birth. I would be a wonderful person to study since in 2006 i was diagnosed with t cell large granular lymphoctyic leukemia by both bone marrow and blood. I express sjogrens disease the greatest, i lost all of my teeth back in 1999, and my sjogrens antibiodies were over 1 thousand. I am pleased to see someone doing studies on autoimmune disease and cancer, i feel t cell lgl leukemia is a precursor to sjogrens lymphyoma, just as fibromylagia was a precursor to the rheumatoid diseases before people expressed the disease in their blood. I am fifty-one years old, female, never married, never had children. both parents deceased, mother passed 1995 from Heart Attack due to symptoms of RA, father passed 09 from bladder ca and a compression fx from the cancer spreading to his back. my mother's sisters passed,1. graves disease, 2.pancreatic ca along with vitallago, and 3. colon cancer along with type II diabetes; grandfather passed pancreatic ca, mother's mother passed from sjogren's stomach ca, great great aunt passed from heart failure due to inpaction from sjogrens disease. I was misdiagnosed as having celiac sprue as a child, but have suffered with ulcers throughout my entire GI Tract from mouth to rectum, I also had abnormally low wbc counts my entire life. I could almost always determine when my wbc ct was low, due to fatigue, severe headaches, rashes, fever, pain, oral yeast infections. I also have had both cushings disease and gone into adrenal failure several times. I had to get my adrenal gland restarted over 5 times. I also in the past use to get IV Fluids when ever i would get dehydrated or unable to eat due to sjogens disease and severe large mouth ulcers. I was also give injections of b12 and multivitamins throughout my late teens, twentys, and into my thirtys.
There is no doubt in my mind that if someone can prevent bad immune responses from occurring, it could prevent the autoimmune diseases from occurring or becoming expressed symptomatically rather than lying dormant. I do believe that since i had been placed on methotraxate back when i was in my twenties, that is one of the reasons i am still allive today along with rest, prevention of harming joints , iv fluids, injections of multivitamins and i did on occasion receive Igg shots. I hope these comments have been helpful. I do hope someone continues to study t cell along with compliments abnormalities to prevent other cancers, especially sjogrens lymphoma, i pray i never develop sjogrens lymphoma, and hope i do not have it now, since they is very little know about the treatment for it. again keep up the great immune research.

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