Immune System Research Sees Many Similarities Among People

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Human immune systems are much more alike than previously believed, a finding that may lead to new ways to detect, diagnose and treat cancer and autoimmune diseases, say U.S. researchers.

The team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle created a new way to sequence millions of immune system T-cell receptors from a single sample. T-cell receptors are a critical part of the adaptive immune system, which is responsible for protection against new pathogens.

When the researchers used this technique to compare immune systems in different people, they were surprised to discover many similarities.

"We found that any two people may share tens of thousands of the exact same T-cell receptor. This is contrary to previous dogma that each person has a distinct set of T-cell receptors with little or no overlap between people," study corresponding author Harlan Robins, a computational biologist and an assistant member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Hutchinson, said in a center news release.

"The strong similarity in the adaptive immune cells between different people suggests that the same disease will induce the same response in different people. The technology described in this paper can readily detect such a response, even if the magnitude of the immune reaction is small. Therefore, we potentially could use one or more of these shared T-cell responses as a diagnostic for a particular disease," Robins said.

The study, published in the Sept. 1 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, has implications for cancers and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, the researchers believe.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, news release, Sept. 1, 2010