Science Market Update

WUSTL Team Unlocks Immune Potential

Posted by Sam Asher on Thu, Oct 22, 2015

Our immune system is our best defense against sickness on a day-to-day basis, and bioresearchers have been trying to ramp it up to handle bigger threats for some time now. A research lab from MSU found that fish oil can significantly boost immune activity, and a UCSF team discovered genetic “enhancers” that help prevent autoimmune diseases. At the Washington University in St. Louis, scientists are finding that our immune system has the potential to be much stronger and are discovering how to tap into that potential.

bd452981-2dff-4db0-906a-60da437ba13e.jpg“We’ve discovered a new component of the interferon system,” said professor Michael J. Holtzman in a recent WUSTL press release. The interferon system is a pivotal and well-known component of the immune system, but Holtzman’s lab is the first to find in it capabilities beyond what the body already implements. The team is especially excited about a signal that delivers a figurative one-two punch against viruses. “It does something that other components don’t do, and it works on both sides of the fence: It dials up the body’s internal genes that fight viruses, and it attacks viral proteins directly.”

The team’s discovery has seen especially good results in the lab. When infected with encephalomyocarditis virus, which causes severe damage to vital organs including the brain, heart and pancreas, 97 percent of genetically engineered mice survived, compared with none of the control mice. Holtzman found similar results in more common viruses, like the influenza strains H5N1 and H1N1. The combination of defense and offense is simply overwhelming to viruses.

“This dual mechanism of action is a great guideline for how we would like to build a new antiviral drug,” Holtzman said. “We want something that affects both host and virus. We already have drug candidates we can screen to see if they target this part of the system.”

This isn’t the first time that the interferon system has been looked into, but it is the first time a research group has found significant improvements to the immune system without invoking autoimmune disorders.

This work was supported by the Martin Schaeffer Fund and by the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about funding for research at Washington University in St. Louis, read our free WUSTL Funding Statistics Report, available via the link below:

WashU  Funding


Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. visits Washington University in St. Louis each year for our St. Louis BioResearch Product Faire™ event, held on the WUSTL campus. This show is an excellent opportunity for life science scientists and laboratory equipment suppliers to network and discuss their research needs and solutions. Our next St. Louis BioResearch Product Faire will be held on April 13, 2016. Biotechnology Calendar is a full service event company that has produced on-campus, life science research trade shows nationwide for the past 20 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the finest research campuses across the country. If you can’t make the St. Louis BioResearch Product Faire™ event, not to worry: you can check our 2015 show schedule or our recently released 2016 schedule of events for an upcoming show in your area. 

Tags: Washington University St. Louis, WashU, 2015, BioResearch Product Faire Event, MO, St Louis

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