Immune cells act to protect individual organs

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Some organs have their own tissue-specific immune cells that are responsible for protecting only that organ, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

The long held belief was these cells, called natural killer cells, roamed the body and acted as a first line of defense against illness. However, researchers studied these cells in mice and found some of them never leave certain organs, such as the liver, skin, and uterus. The hope is the cells could become a vehicle for targeted therapies.

“If, for example, we can use specialized medications to activate only these organ-specific cells, they could provide powerful and selective weapons against infections and tumors in the organs where they reside,” senior investigator Wayne M. Yokoyama, MD, was quoted as saying. “Cells that only defend one organ may be much better equipped than the roaming immune cells to mount an attack and limit collateral damage to healthy tissue.”

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