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Friday 22 August 2014

Mathematician cracks immunity codes

Published 10/01/2012 | 16:13

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Patients with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis could benefit from the cracking of the immune system's codes

An Irish mathematician has helped crack complex codes about our immune system which may ultimately lead to better treatments for Crohn's, coeliac disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

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Dr Ken Duffy, of NUI Maynooth's Hamilton Institute, made the breakthrough on a team of international scientists aiming to design new vaccines for crippling illnesses.

The revolutionary research, published in the prestigious US-based journal Science, turns the existing rules on white blood cell behaviour and the body's defences on their head.

"The science community will be surprised. This is very much a different way of viewing things. It's not the standard accepted paradigm," Dr Duffy said.

The key discovery is that cells react randomly rather than having a pre-determined uniform response to disease. The team studied B cells from mice, the fundamental elements of immune defences capable of making antibodies.

Dr Duffy has been working on the breakthrough research since linking up with Professor Philip Hodgkin from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia in 2007.

The team's ultimate aim is to help design new therapies for auto-immune diseases and improved vaccines and also take what they have learnt so far and use it to explore how immune systems can resist bacteria and viruses.

Any further developments on cell reaction could also see studies into treatment for common allergies such as hay fever and debilitating disease such as multiple sclerosis.

Dr Duffy, lead author of study, said: "The reason for doing all this work is to gain an understanding in order to manipulate cells for the fighting of auto-immune disease. Before you can manipulate a system, first you must understand it."

The breakthrough was fast-tracked for publication last week by editors at Science who regard the findings as being of major importance.

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