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September 14, 2009

Master gene that switches on disease-fighting cells identified by scientists

"The master gene that causes blood stem cells to turn into disease-fighting 'Natural Killer' (NK) immune cells has been identified by scientists, in a study published in Nature Immunology today. The discovery could one day help scientists boost the body's production of these frontline tumour-killing cells, creating new ways to treat cancer.

"The researchers have 'knocked out' the gene in question, known as E4bp4, in a mouse model, creating the world's first animal model entirely lacking NK cells, but with all other blood cells and immune cells intact. This breakthrough model should help solve the mystery of the role that Natural Killer cells play in autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some scientists think that these diseases are caused by malfunctioning NK cells that turn on the body and attack healthy cells, causing disease instead of fighting it. Clarifying NK cells' role could lead to new ways of treating these conditions."

Read more in EurekAlert!, September 13, 2009.