Research points way to 'holy grail' therapy for autoimmune diseases

"T cells are controlling cells of the immune response and are designed to attack
cells infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and cancer cells,"
said Stephen Benedict, professor of molecular biology, who co-authored
the findings. "Self-reactive T cells are T cells that mistakenly can
attack normal things in our bodies. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the
target of these cells is the beta cells of the pancreas."
To target only the self-reactive T cells, Benedict and his co-authors
interrupt the second of two signals T cells rely upon before attacking a
cell in the human body.
"Each T cell has a very specific molecule on its surface that guides
the cell to attack a beta cell, for example, or a specific
virus-infected cell and not to attack a normal heart cell or a different
virus, or a cell in the pancreas that is not a beta cell. This is
called the first signal, or signal 1," said Benedict. "But the cells
must receive a second signal to tell the T cell that it is really OK to
attack the target. In this case one of a few different protein molecules
on the T cell surface interact with a counterpart on the surface of the
target cells.
If this signal 2 takes place, the T cell is given permission to attack
the target. If the interaction does not take place, the T cell knows
that it should not attack and either backs away or it inactivates
itself, or it dies."

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