September 15, 2009

Master disease gene is identified

British scientists say they've identified the master gene that causes blood stem cells to turn into disease-fighting immune cells.

Imperial College London researchers say their finding could help scientists boost the body's production of tumor-killing cells, creating new ways to treat cancer.

The researchers said they 'knocked out' the gene in question, known as E4bp4, in a mouse model, thereby creating the world's first animal model entirely lacking so-called natural killer cells, but with all other blood cells and immune cells intact.

Knocking out genes is a technique in which an organism is engineered to carry genes that have been made inoperative or knocked out of the organism, Wikipedia said.

The scientists, led by Hugh Brady from the college's department of life sciences, said the finding should help solve the mystery of the role natural killer cells play in autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The researchers said they are hoping to develop a cancer drug that reacts with the protein expressed by the E4bp4 gene, causing the body to produce a higher number of natural killer cells than normal to increase the chances of successfully destroying tumors.

The study appears in the journal Nature Immunology.