Rogue cells at root of autoimmune disease


Author Name: Keith Howell

Category Name: Medical science


There are more than 100 different autoimmune diseases. But what unites them all is that they arise from an individual's own cells rare and mysterious immune cells that target not external viruses and bacteria but the body's own healthy organs and tissues.

For the first time, Researchers have pinpointed individual cells that cause autoimmune disease from patient samples. They also uncovered how these cells 'go rogue' by evading checkpoints that normally stop immune cells from targeting the body's own tissues.

The findings could have significant implications for the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune disease, which affects one in eight individuals in Australia.

Current treatments for autoimmune disease address only the symptoms, but not the cause. To make more targeted treatments that address disease development and progression, we first need to understand the cause.

We have developed a technique that allows us to look directly at the cells that cause autoimmune disease it's as though we're looking through a new microscope lens for the first time, learning more about autoimmune disease than was ever possible before.

Because 'rogue' immune cells are so rare in a blood sample -- less than one in 400 cells -- studying them has been a challenge. Analysis to date has at best revealed 'averages' of the vast mix of cells in a patient's sample.Using cellular genomics, we developed a method to 'zoom in' on these disease-causing immune cells in the blood samples of four patients with cryoglobulinemic vasculitis a severe inflammation of the blood vessels. By first separating individual cells, and then separating their genetic material, the researchers isolated immune cells that produced 'rheumatoid factors antibody proteins that target healthy tissues in the body and are associated with the most common autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Once isolated, the researchers then analysed the DNA and messenger RNA of each of these rogue cells, scanning more than a million positions in the genome to identify DNA variants that may be at the root of disease.

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Media Contact:
Kieth Howell
Journal Manager
Journal of Cell signaling