HSC Researcher Unlocks Human Immune System

NEWS RELEASE April 22, 2008 Contact: Luke Frank, Media Relations Manager, 505/272-3679; 505/907-9525 (cell) FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ALBUQUERQUE, NM - A UNM research team led by Vojo Deretic, Ph.D., recently discovered that the human body’s built-in immune system itself can be managed to prevent infectious diseases - specifically how it can “devour” tuberculosis (TB), a worldwide scourge that persists in billions of individuals worldwide, and annually causes nine million new disease cases and claims two million lives. Within each of our highly complex and adaptive bodies, there are processes at the molecular level that maintain the cellular landscape, asserts Deretic, Professor and Chair of UNM’s Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department. These processes ensure that exhausted proteins and invading micro-organisms alike are properly gathered and disposed of, making room for new cells. This human autophagy, or “self-eating”, system helps to regulate which cells live and die. Autophagy also acts as a defense against harmful viruses and bacteria, and is controlled by cytokines and other natural immunity mechanisms in our bodies. “In addition to the autophagy system, we’ve now uncovered a previously masked role for a major cytokine that may help control tuberculosis,” Deretic reveals. “This discovery came complete with aMycobacterium tuberculosis 1 system(the agent that “causes” TB), which prevents activation of this critical cytokine.” Deretic asserts that this breakthrough should allow for the rapid development of effective strategies for TB prevention. Deretic and colleagues Sharon Master, Ph.D., with UNM’s renowned Infectious Disease Signature Program, and Swiss researchers Erik Boettger and Peter Sander, believe that they have uncovered one of the best kept secrets of TB and, therefore, better vaccines and treatments for TB can be designed. Their findings recently were published in Cell Host & Microbe Magazine under the title, “Mycobacterium Blocks Inflammasome -IL-1 Activation.” Cell Press also has featured this discovery in their quarterly podcasthttp://podcast.cell.com/0418cell2008.mp3, released April 15. For more information about UNM’s Infectious Disease Signature Program or the Health Sciences Center, please visitwww.hsc.unm.edu.

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