A research team from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have made an important discovery – an immune system 'kill switch' which could be significant to infection and chemotherapy recovery.
International journal, Immunity, has published the findings, with the researchers saying that the 'kill switch' is triggered when internal immune cell 'signals' which protect the body from infection go "haywire".
When the body is under severe stress the switch eradicates blood stem cells.
The research team discovered that the self-destruction of blood stem cells could be stopped by blocking the internal signals, most particularly a cell receptor NLRP1, improving infection recovery and preventing death after chemotherapy.
NLRP1 is part of a family of immune receptors, said Dr Seth Masters, acting as a protective mechanism which tells the immune and blood stem cells to die when it has picked up on "severe stress-related damage" or infection.
However, Dr Masters added that the protective mechanism "can go too far".
"It is early days, but we are optimistic that this is a pathway that could help to prevent blood cell death and treat severe cases of sepsis, as well as other conditions where blood stem cells are critically depleted, such as during chemotherapy."
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