THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Discovery of white blood cell type could result in improved vaccines

The recent discovery a new class of white blood cells in human gut and lung tissues that fight harmful fungal and bacterial infections could reveal new targets for vaccine development.

Scientists at A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network discovered a new subset of dendritic cells, called CD11b+ DCs, which are able to active a type of protective T cell that specializes in activating a response against harmful fungi or bacteria. The study, which was published in Immunity, also showed that the immune functions of CD11b+ DCs are similar in mice, allowing scientists to apply mouse studies to advanced clinical therapies for the human immune system.

"Life-threatening fungal infections have increased over the years yet treatment options remain limited," Laurent Rénia, the acting executive director of SIgN, said. "This study demonstrates how fundamental research that deepens our understanding of the body's immune system can translate into potential clinical applications that could save lives and impact healthcare."

In the study, scientists with SIgN and Newcastle University found that mice lacking the CD11b+ DCs were unable to induce the protective Th17 response against the Aspergillus fumigatus fungal species. A. fumigatus is one of the most common fungal species in infections acquired from hospitals.

"As dendritic cells have the unique ability to 'sense' the type of pathogen present in order to activate the appropriate immune response, they are attractive targets to explore for vaccine development," Florent Ginhoux, the study's team leader, said. "This discovery revealed fresh inroads to better exploit dendritic cells for improved vaccine design against life-threatening fungal infections."

The research could allow scientists to design more effective vaccines and targeted immunotherapies for diseases like hospital-acquired pneumonia.