Disease-fighting ‘helper’ cell discovered

A team of Australian researchers have discovered a new type of “helper” cell, which increases the ability of the human body to fight infections and life-threatening diseases.

The cell was named as natural killer T follicular helper (NKTfh), is able to recognize foreign molecules, known as lipid antigens, which sit on infectious bacteria such as meningitis and pneumonia and before triggering an antibody response to fight off the infection.

“Natural killer T (NKT) cells, unlike other T cells, recognize molecules known as lipids, instead of just recognizing proteins expressed by infectious bacteria,”

Professor Carola Vinuesa from Australia National University’s John Curtin School of Medical Research, said in a statement.

Professor Vinuesa stated that the newly-discovered cell is a natural and chemical-free way for the body to fight off infection.

“NKTfh cells also induce specialized structures called germinal centres, similar to those which have previously been shown to generate high-affinity antibody responses to protein antigens.

“Both these qualities provide a natural boost to B cells, subsequently strengthening the human immune system and its ability to stave off infection,” Vinuesa said.

“So we think that by understanding how antibodies are produced to protect us against these bacteria, this could help in the development of vaccines and also in basically understanding better immune responses,” said Vinuesa.

Vinuesa also said that the discovery will help researchers understand more about which natural antibody responses could be better for fighting different types of infection. The specific boost given by NKTfh cells were also found over a short period.

The discovery has been published in the journals Nature Immunology and Immunity.

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