MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Innate memory cell discovery could revolutionize immunizations

Researchers at Cornell University recently found that small groups of preprogrammed cells have the ability to fight pathogens they have never encountered.

When a cell battles a pathogen, it is usually a long process that involves the host becoming sick with symptoms like fever, cough or flu-like manifestations. The cell will then learn from this struggle and be able to fight similar pathogens with ease in the future.

It was believed that newborn cells lacked these capabilities. The researchers found newborn cells were able to fight new pathogens and acted like memory cells that had already battled a pathogen.

"These fully functioning innate memory cells open amazing opportunities for improving how we immunize," Avery August, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, said. "We've found a way to make millions of working memory cells without ever having to expose the body to a pathogen. If we can mobilize these cells to our advantage we can immunize much more quickly and eliminate the rare side effects of traditional vaccines."

Vaccines give a small amount of a pathogen and make cells recognize it, enabling cells to fight the pathogen in the future. Using these newly found memory cells could revolutionize vaccines, allowing people to bypass booster shots and other slow acting vaccines.

"Theoretically we could generate memory cells for any kind of pathogen," August said. "It looks like our immune systems are already trying to do this. The existence of these premade memory cells suggests that, over evolutionary history, our immune systems are trying to anticipate the pathogens we'll face. Now we've found a way that could quickly help them along to improve immunities."