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Wednesday, 30 September, 1998, 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK
Gene key may unlock immune system diseases
Mouse
The 'scurfy' immune system gene has been found in mice
Scientists believe they may have traced a defective gene which could act as an on-off switch for the immune system.

The British-based team at Chiroscience Group plc says it has found a defective gene in mice which may control the immune system.

The discovery could have major implications for the production of drugs to combat a range of disease such as cancer and Aids.

The gene, known as scurfy, is found in most humans, but not in its defective form.

The researchers believe this is because the gene causes such severe reactions that anyone with it would die before they were born.

Mice with the gene do not live long. Their entire immune system begins to attack everything in their body.

Cancer

Bob Jackson, director of research at Chiroscience, said: "We have validated that this gene is a virtual 'off-on switch' for the immune system."

Bob Jackson
Bob Jackson: the gene could be an on-off switch for the immune system
The researchers believe it could be used to control both diseases which attack break the immune system down and those that boost it so much that it begins to feed on itself.

In diseases like cancer, the immune system is weakened and needs building up.

But in autoimmune diseases, such as rheuamatoid arthritis, the immune system begins to attack healthy cells as well as disease-causing ones.

The findings were announced at a research and development meeting in London, but have not yet been subjected to peer review by other scientists.

The researchers say they need to do a lot more work before they can find ways of using the information to produce drugs which could boost or tone down the immune system.

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BBC News
The BBC's James Wilkinson on the immune system gene
See also:

16 Sep 98 | Health
Alzheimer's risk pinned on dad
18 Sep 98 | Health
Salt gene under the microscope
01 Oct 98 | Health
Genes for better mothers
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