Researchers Discover New Battleground for Viruses and Immune Cells
Vaccines have led to many positive health outcomes, but many deadly viruses, such as HIV, still avoid the efforts of scientists to develop effective vaccines against them.
Akinso: Vaccines have led to many positive health outcomes, but many deadly viruses, such as HIV, still avoid the efforts of scientists to develop effective vaccines against them. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have discovered a new battleground for viruses and immune cells which could help researchers develop anti-virus vaccines. Dr. Jonathan Yewdell, Chief of the NIAID Cellular Biology Section says an improved understanding of how the immune system operates during a viral infection is critical to designing successful anti-virus vaccines.
Yewdell: What we're interested in is how the immune system recognizes viruses. The cells we're principally interested in are the killer T cells. These are the cells that go into an organ and find a virus infected cell and typically kill it. And so there's lots different ways to study it that we've done over the years. And there's a brand new way to study it that entails taking an animal infected it with a virus. The virus expresses a protein that you put in that's colored so a microscope can see it and then we take the animal and put it on a fancy microscope. And we watch how the virus infected cells interacts with the cells that we're interested in which are the T-cells.
Akinso: Dr. Yewdell and his colleague Dr. Heather Hickman focused on mouse lymph nodes, which are bean shaped organs that contain a variety of immune cells and are distributed throughout the body. The researchers discovered that immune cells confront viruses just inside of the lymph node and not deep within these organs as previously thought. Dr. Yewdell discusses the significance of the study.
Yewdell: The significance is really basically starting to really put vaccine generation on a rational basis. The way vaccines have always been designed in the past is basically you take a virus and you either kill it or not. You make it weaker. You give it to an animal and you didn't really have to know the rules to get it to work. And these vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of people but you didn't actually have to know anything about how they were working or not very much. The infectious diseases that are left to develop vaccines for are the hard ones. Things like HIV, hepatitis C virus, malaria and in all of those diseases it's thought that the cells that we're interested in, these killer T cells play an important role. And what you like to do then is to elicit the best T cell response you can. We think that it's important to do that, that you really know the rules for how it's working so then you can actually design your vaccine to take advantage of those rules.
Akinso: Dr. Yewdell says this is just a step but researchers are a long way from coming up with a vaccine for viruses such as HIV and malaria. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Wally Akinso
Sound Bite: Dr. Jonathan Yewdell
Topic: Vaccine Research, Virus