By Spencer WoodmanPosted 06.21.2012 at 3:35 pm 0 Comments
One of the most vexing problems that confronted surgeons after they completed the first successful human organ transplant, in 1954, was: Where would they get more organs? Medical researchers have since figured out how to transplant hearts, eyes and even entire faces. But half a century later, they still struggle to keep up with the demand for parts. For example, in the U.S., every year 1,400 people die awaiting livers and 4,500 more awaiting kidneys.
When you check in to a hospital in the future, along with checking your vitals and ordering a blood panel, your doctors may assign you a personal mouse. The immune-deficient creature will receive a transplant of your tissue, which will allow it to mimic your immune system, or maybe your specific type of cancer. Then doctors can try out a cocktail of drugs or gene therapies to see what might work on you.
A new real-time view of immune cells attacking the pancreas sheds light on how type 1 diabetes unfolds, as white blood cells seek out and destroy insulin-producing beta cells. Researchers believe it could help point the way to new intervention methods to halt the destruction before the onset of type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.
[UPDATE 6 p.m.] Immune cells that protect us from the dangers of this microbe planet are behind this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine. Two of the three winners discovered receptor proteins that can recognize microbial invaders, activating the innate immune response. The third discovered dendritic cells, which serve as surveillance cells and can switch on the body's adaptive immune response.
News from the field of HIV research has been pretty promising of late — this summer, we heard good news that antiretroviral treatment is superbly effective, at least when it's used correctly. And thanks to some video gamers, scientists' understanding of proteins involved in HIV keeps getting better. Now researchers have another tool in their arsenal: Stripping the virus itself of its ability to trick the human immune system.
HIV infection sends the immune system into overdrive and eventually exhausts it, which is what leads to AIDS. But removing cholesterol from HIV seems to cripple the virus' ability to over-activate part of the immune system, so it could potentially lead to a vaccine that lets the adaptive immune system attack and destroy the virus — just as it would if HIV was any other pathogen.
When it comes to self-aware, self-healing organisms, the human body is pretty well unmatched. So naturally, DARPA wants to match it. The military's mad-science wing is seeking new computer systems that would be highly resistant to cyber-attack, and if they are successfully attacked, able to adapt and recover. The so-called Clean-Slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH) program seeks brand-new computers modeled on the human immune system.
The astronauts launching on space shuttle Atlantis this afternoon will experience fatigue, muscle and bone-density loss, and a host of other space ills during the next couple of weeks. But their counterparts who will one day travel to Mars face greater problems -- their immune systems will be compromised, thanks to genes that behave differently in space.
Spaceflight changes the activity of genes that control immune and stress response, according to a new study of space-flown mice at the University of Arizona.