Protein That Boosts Immunity To Viruses And Cancer Discovered

Protein That Boosts Immunity To Viruses And Cancer Discovered
Cytotoxic T cells with the protein LEM stained.
(Image source)
Scientists have discovered a protein that plays a central role in promoting immunity to viruses and cancer, opening the door to new therapies. Experiments in mice and human cells have shown that the protein promotes the proliferation of cytotoxic T cells, which kill cancer cells and cells infected with viruses. The discovery was unexpected because the new protein had no known function and doesn't resemble any other protein. The findings are published in the journal Science.
Cytotoxic T cells are an important component of the immune system, but when faced with serious infections or advanced cancer, they are often unable to proliferate in large enough quantities to fight the disease.
By screening mice with genetic mutations, the team discovered a strain of mice that produced 10 times as many cytotoxic T cells when infected with a virus compared with normal mice. These mice suppressed the infection more effectively, and were more resistant to cancer. They also produced more of a second type of T cells, memory cells, enabling them to recognise infections they have encountered previously and launch a rapid response.
The mice with enhanced immunity produced high levels of a hitherto unknown protein, which the researchers named lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM. They went on to show that LEM modulates the proliferation of human T cells as well as in mice.
The researchers now aim to develop a gene therapy designed to improve immunity by boosting the production of LEM, and hope to begin human trials in three years. The researchers have filed two patents, and a company called ImmunarT has been formed with the aim of commercialising the technology.
Based on material originally posted by Imperial College London.