Two molecules offer great potential to combat cancer and chronic infections
Originally published on Science Daily
To fight viral infections, your immune system calls on CD8 T cells to kill the infected cells. The CD8 T cells can also be used in immunotherapy approaches to kill cancer cells, including the CAR T cell therapy currently attracting broad public attention.
"The problem is that CD8 T cells are often exhausted in cancer and chronic infections like HIV, so they die off or stop functioning properly," said Shomyseh Sanjabi, PhD, an assistant investigator at the Gladstone Institutes who has been studying this cell type for nearly 15 years. "I've been trying to better understand how these cells develop in order to find ways to help them regain their function and live longer."
When you initially get exposed to an invading pathogen, such as a virus, CD8 T cells begin to rapidly multiply. At this stage, they are called effector cells and act like foot soldiers, killing infected cells. Once the pathogen is gone, most effector cells die to ensure they don't begin to attack your own body.
The ones that survive become memory cells, which are more like specialized guards, patrolling your body for the same invaders for the rest of your life. The next time you get exposed to the same pathogen, these memory cells allow your body to respond much more quickly and protect you.