Malaria clue leads to immune discovery

Malaria clue leads to immune discovery

Illuminate newsletter index page, December 2019
December 2019

Diana Hansen
Dr Diana Hansen at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

A discovery about how the immune system responds to malaria infection could lead to better treatments for hepatitis C, HIV and lupus.

The research team showed, in laboratory models, that strong inflammatory signals activate molecules that help produce highly potent antibodies to fight malaria. The discovery could be harnessed to develop new vaccines and therapies that are better able to fight infections such as hepatitis C and HIV, and treat diseases such as lupus.

The research was led by Institute researchers Ms Ann Ly and Dr Diana Hansen, with Dr Yiang Liao and Associate Professor Wei Shi, and Professor Axel Kallies from the Doherty Institute.

Antibodies are key

Antibodies are critical to the immune system’s ability to develop long-term immunity. In a previous paper, the team showed that inflammatory signals activated genes that arrested the development of helper T cells, so B cells did not get the necessary instructions to make antibodies.

Dr Hansen said, when they began this study, they expected to see that inflammation was also having a negative effect on B cells.

“In fact, we found the opposite was true. The inflammatory signals were improving the quality of the antibodies produced, by sending B cells to an elite training ground, where they underwent an exhaustive program to become ‘professional predators’.

New therapies

Dr Hansen said she hoped that the discovery would have a role beyond malaria.

“I think this discovery is so exciting because of the opportunity it offers in treating chronic viral infections and autoimmune disease. Targeting this molecule, or other molecules in the same pathway, could offer a more ‘precision medicine’ approach to treating these diseases than currently exists,” she said.


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