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Medicine Science

Scientists Find Master Gene To Switch On Immune Cells 94

Scientists claim to have identified a master gene which is able to transform blood stem cells into disease-fighting immune cells. The hope is that this discovery will allow for new treatments for 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."
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Scientists Find Master Gene To Switch On Immune Cells

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:50PM (#29417283)
    I doubt it. Chances are this will be used for warfare.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      1. Use said technology in genetic warfare (either turn it always on or always off and apply convenient pathogen)
      2. Unexpected mutation in delivery system
      3. Worldwide human extinction
      4. No new cases of cancer in humans

    • by joaommp ( 685612 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:18PM (#29417735) Homepage Journal

      Actually, chances are, House is going to save some patient with some obscure theory based on this.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      Warfare has been the vehicle through which many medical advances have been made. Developing weaponized diseases for study has led to better cures and prevention for the common forms of the disease. Techniques used to help soldiers wounded in battle have rapidly filtered down into civilian life. During the American Civil War, most soldiers died either of disease or infection from wounds. This helped give rise to better protection from diseases, as well as an increased awareness of the need for sterilizati
      • who know how true but the story I've heard oft repeated is that boiled horse hair makes better sutures, so someone decides to order all horse hair for sutures boiled. Some gets boiled hours before in batches, some gets boiled immediately before using. Fast forward few thousand more infection related deaths and someone takes note of the radical change in infection rates between those soldiers sutured with recently boiled horse hair versus those sutured with unboiled or previously boiled horse hair.

        Can't exac

    • Chances are this will be used for warfare.

      1. You can weaponize anything.
      2. But you'd probably be missing the point.

  • Cure for cancer... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ifwm ( 687373 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:50PM (#29417287) Journal

    I recall reading somewhere that there will never be a proper 'cure" for cancer because of the nature of our cell reproduction processes.

    That said, why is it everything is a "cure for cancer"? The hyperbole has gotten way old.

    • by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:00PM (#29417465) Journal

      The problem with "a cure for cancer", is that cancer isn't one disease. Also there are many causes.

      That being said, reliable treatments (cures) for different types of cancers can still be developed. However, no cure for cancer could ever prevent a relapse, unless it treated the genetic factors involved, and was taken regularly through a person's life. Even then, only cancers derived from the cause that the treatment targets, will be prevented.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by inerlogic ( 695302 )
        pssst.... actually, "cancer" has the same exact cause.... mutated cells reproducing out of control... find something that targets and destroys these mutant cells, boom, cure for cancer...
        find something that cuts off the blood supply to said mutant cells, boom! cure for cancer...

        everyone has cancer cells (newsflash!)
        but our immune systems are able to keep on top of things and keep those cells from multiplying out of control.... then some genetic or environmental factor comes along, throws shit out of whack a
        • by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:48PM (#29418097) Journal

          pssst.... actually, "cancer" has the same exact cause.... mutated cells reproducing out of control...

          No, that is the definition of cancer, not the cause. Cause != symptom. Example: a large portion of cancers, are in part, caused by a disabled p53 gene.

          find something that targets and destroys these mutant cells, boom, cure for cancer...
          find something that cuts off the blood supply to said mutant cells, boom! cure for cancer...

          Unfortunately, a cure that non-specific also targets normal stem cells, and the treatment actually curing cancer vs. killing the patient becomes a dice game that works on small cancers.

          Now, what CAUSES the cells to go haywire is a good thing to target.

          everyone has cancer cells (newsflash!)

          No, everyone has cells that have the potential to become cancerous, and most people develop cancer cells at some point during their lives. It's a small difference, but you seem to want to be really nitpicky here...

          • <quote><blockquote><div><p>Now, what CAUSES the cells to go haywire is a good thing to target.</blockquote>

            but... didn't someone *just* say that so many things cause cancer it's all impossible to find stuff to cure blah blah blah.....

            if you can't cure the cause, because the causes are many and varied, cure the cancer....

            Patrick Swayze will thank yo.... oh.. wait.... SHIT too late....
            • yep, and this was also stated.

              That being said, reliable treatments (cures) for different types of cancers can still be developed.

              I feel obnoxious quoting myself, but please put 2 and 2 together and get 4 instead of 14.

          • find something that targets and destroys these mutant cells, boom, cure for cancer... find something that cuts off the blood supply to said mutant cells, boom! cure for cancer...

            Unfortunately, a cure that non-specific also targets normal stem cells, and the treatment actually curing cancer vs. killing the patient becomes a dice game that works on small cancers.

            Isn't that EXACTLY what NK cells do naturally, though? They target abnormal cells that do not self-identify as belonging to the body (notable, cancerous cells) without targeting normal cells (stem cells included).

            It's amplifying the body's own cure for cancer so that it works better, quicker, and more often. Sounds like a (potential) cure to me.

            • Correct, but if the cancer isn't recognized by the NK cells as foreign, then they won't be effective.

      • by Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <Bakkster.man@gCOMMAmail.com minus punct> on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:06PM (#29418377)

        Ah, but these cells are the ones that normally prevent cellular mutations from becoming tumors. It's the body's own defense mechanism, and it works the vast majority of the time. If you can increase the number of NK cells, you increase the body's defenses against all forms of cancer, including relapses. In fact, this treatment would be especially good at relapses, since part of their purpose is to destroy individual cancerous cells before they can grow into tumors.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_killer_cell [wikipedia.org]

        While there are obviously some hurdles, mobilizing the body's anti-cancer response enough to overpower tumors sounds like a cure to me.

        • Except there ARE NK resistant cancers. While this would work on most, it's still not a silver-bullet.

      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        They're doing this because it's cool to turn natural killer cells on and off.

        Isn't that reason enough?

      • That being said, reliable treatments (cures) for different types of cancers can still be developed.

        Big Pharma loves treatments (aka steady revenue streams), but they have NO interest in cures. They came up with drugs to keep HIV-positives and diabetics alive, but cures? Oh, nonono: not allowed, as they couldn't charge enough to make up for lost revenues.

    • Well, right now we definitely have no "cure" for cancer - we have ways of killing it, but nothing to make those cells that are cancerous to go back to being normal, productive, healthy, happy cells. I very much doubt we'll ever find a way to "cure" cancer, once it has started in a body. Prevent, yes, treat/kill, yes. Cure, no.

      That said, I'm all for new and better ways of killing cancer cells, preferably while leaving the patient healthier during the process. And if we can prevent it before it starts, ev

    • One word: Nanobots.
  • I'm a little confused, though - they've created a mouse without NK cells... in the hopes of finding ways to produce more NK cells. So they've found a way that doesn't work?

    I suppose this just gives them more data to work with in clarifying how the system operates and how it can be tweaked to produce desired outcomes.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:54PM (#29417367)
      Ah, to clarify - they also want to turn off faulty NK cells. That makes more sense.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Presumably, the mice are a research tool, not a result in and of themselves. If you're testing a procedure meant to create more NK cells, testing it on NK-less subjects lets you know exactly how successful (or not) it was, since your count isn't being thrown off by "natives".

    • Can't find out a way to produce needles in a haystack in a haystack already full of needles.
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:05PM (#29417543) Journal

      That's how genetics works.

      You find out what creates a something by turning it off.

      For example, they E4bp4 gene is needed to make NK cells from blood stem cells. They now know that one of the steps in generating NK cells from the listed stem cells involves the protein E4bp4 gene. Using information about this and other relevant proteins (both that they have found, and that they haven't found, once they are found), they will be able to devise procedures for converting these stem cells (possibly from the original patient, eliminating or reducing rejection issues) to NK cells.

      • Although, reading the other comments, my description is obviously the one least likely to be near-term useful and relevant (especially given the fact that turning off this gene doesn't eliminate other cells).

      • From the article, its apparent that they have found a gene which is critical to the production of NK cells and its absence doesn't interfere with production of other cell types. That gives them the ability to turn NK production off, but its not a given that this is the only gene required for NK production to work. It's not even a good assumption that this doesn't have any other side effects, although obviously those side effects are not immediately lethal.

        • by mea37 ( 1201159 )

          If only there were some process by which they could build on these findings, testing for the possible scenarios you describe. We should invent such a process. Perhaps we'll call it "science".

          Meanwhile the ability to test NK cells' involvement in various diseases depends not at all on whether they can safely use this gene to stimulate NK cell production. It depends only on the NK-free model they've created asa result of their work to date.

          • I agree the ability to create a NK free test platform is valuable.

            Note as usual the /. title is completely misleading when what they really found is a gene they can use to switch off the production of a particular type of immune cell.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The real Nature article is here : http://www.nature.com/ni/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ni.1787.html

    Nature Immunology Published online: 13 September 2009 | doi:10.1038/ni.1787
    The basic leucine zipper transcription factor E4BP4 is essential for natural killer cell development

    NB: E4BP4 is the mouse name for Human NFIL3 ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/4783 )

    From the "discussion" section ...
    E4BP4 has been shown to regulate circadian gene expression and to be induced by light in the chick pineal gland, where

    • E4BP4 has been shown to regulate circadian gene expression and to be induced by light in the chick pineal gland, where it regulates the pineal clock gene cPer2 (ref. 24). Several studies have shown that the degree of NK cell cytotoxicity is circadian in both rodents and human ... . It is plausible that as E4BP4 is critical for NK development, it may also serve a central role in regulating the circadian nature of NK cell function.

      And this may also lead to treatments modulating the production of NT cells by e

  • I get cancer, get the treatment, but now need blood transfusions because all of my blood cells have been turned into immune cells and I have no more cells to carry oxygen around my body.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by dazjorz ( 1312303 )
      Apart from that you're exaggerating, YOU LIVE! I'm sure doctors world-wide will be very happy to give a cancer patient as many blood transfusions as he needs after this treatment, if it dramatically improves the chances he survives.
      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        I'm sure doctors world-wide will be very happy to give a cancer patient as many blood transfusions as he needs after this treatment

        Sounds like a big-pharma solution, turn the patient into a permanent revenue stream. It seems like a bone marrow transplantation would be a more appropriate and permanent solution.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematopoietic_stem_cell_transplantation [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mea37 ( 1201159 )

          It seems like a bone marrow transplantation would be a more appropriate and permanent solution.

          If it seems like that, I suggest you take a deeper look at the situation.

          First, let's realize that the scneario of a patient becoming permanently medicine-dependent as a result of the type of treatment described in TFA is entirely speculation on the part of a /. poster. We don't know whether a treatment based on this protein would have side effects, and while this postulated side effect may sound intuitive to you

      • by MaerD ( 954222 )
        No no no.. you UNLIVE! and get regular transfusions via fangs!
    • I get cancer, get the treatment, but now need blood transfusions because all of my blood cells have been turned into immune cells and I have no more cells to carry oxygen around my body.

      Except the blood cells that are NK cells are white blood cells, they don't carry oxygen to other cells. The cells that carry oxygen are red blood cells. It's the fe, iron, in the cells that bind to oxygen which then forms ferrous oxide. And the ferrous oxide is what makes the red blood cells red. Just like corroded iron,

  • Fuck cancer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Theodore ( 13524 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:37PM (#29417957)

    Seriously, if this has no benefits towards a cancer cure, I don't care...
    Because it looks like a promising step towards helping auto-immune disorders.

    Cancer either kills you, or you live...
    auto-immune, you live, and suffer, and live, and suffer, and live (goddamn it).

    I've known people with auto-immune disorders for over 25 years,
    And it's only NOW that some of these disorders are even being recognized as a disease.
    (coming in from the fringe to "real" medicine).

    I have eczema.
    Yeah, doesn't really sound bad does it.
    Imagine having the skin on your fingers swell and split open, and your forearms be red and "popeye-ish" and they just radiate heat.
    I've been lucky enough to figure out some of the triggers for it (MSG and onions, mainly), but it never quite goes away, except when I get a hard cold/flu, then it totally clears up.

    Too many auto-immune disorders are still considered to be "all in the head".
    Hopefully this helps bring them more mainstream attention.

    • Too many auto-immune disorders are still considered to be "all in the head".
      Hopefully this helps bring them more mainstream attention.

      I once had a brain tumor. My insurance denied me coverage because they said it was all in my head. :(

      With that out of my system (my insurance doesn't cover bad jokes either), I'm totally with you. This is going to be great just from the standpoint of studying our immune system, that amazing thing that can be our best friend or worst enemy.

    • Seriously, if this has no benefits towards a cancer cure, I don't care...
      Because it looks like a promising step towards helping auto-immune disorders.

      Cancer either kills you, or you live...
      auto-immune, you live, and suffer, and live, and suffer, and live (goddamn it).

      You should care if this is good for auto-immune disorders. If it cures them you wouldn't have to live with eczema, unlike me. Unless a breakthrough in neurogenesis happens there is no cure and little therapy to treat my injury, I survived a

      • If it cures them you wouldn't have to live with eczema, unlike me.

        You try eliminating products containing gluten? Seriously. I know 4 people know who had chronic eczema for years who eliminated gluten and their eczema went away within a few weeks.

        • No I don't. That I'm aware of I'm not allergic to anything others aren't also allergic to. Heck as a kid I had an immunity to poison ivy, I guess because I frequently contacted it.

          I know 4 people know who had chronic eczema for years who eliminated gluten and their eczema went away within a few weeks.

          I don't avoid food with gluten in it but I'll been seeing more and more food labeled gluten free.

          Falcon

      • by Deosyne ( 92713 )

        I'm gonna take a SWAG and go with your second interpretation, although I, too, had to take a moment to decipher the intent behind that first line.

    • You might try to find a stellar recommendation for an acupuncturist who's willing to try a varied approach -- not tied to doing things precisely 'by the book' according to Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian theory, but willing to use their brain and experiment a little. Oddly, acupuncture seems to be conspicuously effective for autoimmune conditions; in particular, asthma and arthritis. Not sure whether it clears up the root cause or the associated inflammation when it works, but since side effects are
      • by alexo ( 9335 )

        Oddly, acupuncture seems to be conspicuously effective for autoimmune conditions; in particular, asthma and arthritis

        [citation needed]

        And by "citation", I mean "peer-reviewed results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study".

    • I totally agree with you on this. I also suffer from eczema and have yet to find any cause. I've changed my diet several times to no avail. Although, my case is somewhat mild, it is very embarasing and costly. Ellidel and Protopic barely work, aren't cheap, and corticosteroids don't work anymore. I hope that a cure for eczema and other auto-immune disorders (arthritis, MS,...) can come from this!
  • meet Mistress Gene [ponygirlerotica.com]

    OMG it's full of ponies ; )

  • Now I can get leucemia AND cytokine storm at the same time!
  • "How To Make Science Popular Again?"
    "Scientists Find Master Gene To Switch On Immune Cells"

    Hey, that works!
  • And now I'm waiting for the "discovery" that this gene is activated by the vast amount of sugars and starchy stuff we eat...

  • Turning off immune cells is more interesting.

    Stop rejecting organs, stop all the Auto-Immune diseases (like say Lupus, Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, Multiple Sclerosis, etc)

    Sure Aids and cancer get all the big money, but the overly active immune systems are harder to fight because it is your own body you are fighting.

    • Not to mention hayfever and various allergies. It would be nice to be able to turn down the sensitivity of the body to foreign bodies from time to time.
  • "Scientists claim to have identified a master gene..."

    This [genesimmons.com] is the only "Master Gene" worth speaking of in any venue.

  • There will be many missteps, before or even if the promise is realized.

    Turning on a gene to start antibody production could have the unintended consequence of starting an autoimmune attack of the patient's own body. Moreover, as others have observed Cancer is neither a single disease nor do the same or similar uncontained growths in differing individuals arise from the same cause.

    Be optimistic, but expect failures and less than the full promise to appear. And quickly is even more unlikely, when we have to

  • creating the world's first animal model entirely lacking NK cells

    Lab Rat 2.0?

  • by hansraj ( 458504 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:16PM (#29418501)

    Why on earth is every article about biotech tagged "whatcouldpossiblygowrong"?

    • If you need to ask, you would not understand the answer :-)
    • by TikiTDO ( 759782 )

      People are not used to making as much progress as we have in the past few years. When you grow up while taking certain things for granted, it's quite a shock to see them proven null and void. The natural response is to fear it, and try to come up with every thing that could possibly go wrong in order to feel justified in said fear. It's not really a bad thing though, in fact these people often bring up good points.

      I'm sure as time goes on, the younger generations will be less focused on worrying about these

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by falconwolf ( 725481 )

      Why on earth is every article about biotech tagged "whatcouldpossiblygowrong"?

      Perhaps that's because it's a question that should be asked.

      Falcon

    • It's either a prevailing belief that man shouldn't play God by manipulating the most fundamental aspects of our intelligent design, or too much time spent playing and watching Resident Evil. Hmmm... I wonder which it is...
  • Diabetes (type I) and MS are caused through the adaptive immune system, i.e. antibodies, _not_ NK cells.
  • Good timing (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I've been suffering for my entire life (ok only 3 or 4 months at a stretch once every 10 years), with freaking autoimmune disease (white blood cells attacking my dermis, giving me Guttate Psoriasis). The Novo-Clobetasol knocks it out, but this time its all over my hands and feet (a pain to look at, it hurts, and gives me a nice little shot of Psoriatic Arthritis). Its not the end of the world, what I have is the least life-threatening autoimmune disease, and the arthritis is the second-least life-threaten

  • A gene turn off (Score:2, Interesting)

    Turning on and off a gene does not turn on and off a single function. It deploys, or not, the set of interdependent processes whose outcome is an organism with said function.

    A knockout is by definition the turning off of a gene. In fact a better metaphor is the 'removal of a switch', that in all likelihood will operate in a bunch of processes, hierarchically dependent on each other, with complex and unforeseen consequences.

    The fact that the scientists can find 'statistical significance' in the correlation b

  • This sounds like a dangerous experiment that could result in zombies roaming about and killing or infecting us all.

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