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'Incredible' map of immune system connections unveiled

Thursday August 4th 2022

A map detailing the network of connections that make up the human immune system has been unveiled for the first time.

This “huge step” in understanding the immune system was created by scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and ETH Zürich. They hope it could pave the way to new immunotherapies to treat cancer, infectious diseases, and other conditions where immune responses play a role.

Published in the latest edition of *Nature*, the map – the culmination of more than 20 years of work, includes the discovery of many previously unknown interactions that together shed light on the organisation of the body’s immune defences.

They say these discoveries provide some answers to longstanding questions about current immunotherapies that are already used to treat patients.

The researchers described how they isolated and investigated a near-complete set of the surface proteins that physically link immune cells together before going on to complete a large amount of computational and mathematical analysis to create a map that shows the cell types, messengers, and relative speed of each conversation taking place between immune cells.

They say it is possible to see the impact of different diseases on the immune system and that investigations can take place for new therapies that bind to different proteins on the immune cell surface.

First author Jarrod Shilts, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Meticulously isolating and analysing every immune cell and their interactions with others has given us the first map of the conversations between all of the immune cells in the human body.

“This is a huge step in understanding the inner workings of the immune system and will hopefully be utilised by researchers all around the world to help develop new therapies that work with the body’s defence mechanisms.”

Professor Berend Snijder, from the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology at ETH Zürich, added: “This research has produced an incredible new tool that can be used to help highlight which proteins and pathways would be beneficial to target in drug development. It can also give insight into whether a drug will have impact on other pathways, which can cause side effects.

“All of this information may help in the development of new therapies and could give crucial supporting evidence to help ensure that the most effective treatments are put into clinical trials.”

Shilts J, Severin Y, Galaway F et al. A physical wiring diagram for the human immune system. *Nature* 3 August 2022; doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-05028-x


Tags: Europe | General Health | UK News

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