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UK: Cell Research Newly Discovered Type of Cells Could Be Activated to Repair Body Tissue

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Researchers at Oxford University have discovered that a newly discovered group of cells can help repair tissues in the body. The researchers say these cells, which are abundant in our bodies, could be harnessed to help heal tissues and treat diseases such as infections of the lung, the bowel or the skin.

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Two Oxford teams were investigating the ‘Mucosal Associated Invariant T cells’, or ‘MAIT cells’ for short, which were only identified in the last few years.
Two Oxford teams were investigating the ‘Mucosal Associated Invariant T cells’, or ‘MAIT cells’ for short, which were only identified in the last few years.
(Source: University of Oxford)

Oxford/UK — Two Oxford teams were investigating a kind of white blood cell, the ‘Mucosal Associated Invariant T cells’, or ‘Mait cells’ for short, which were only identified in the last few years. Dr Timothy Hinks, of the University’s Experimental Medicine Division led one of two research groups studying these cells. In his opinion, these cells are remarkable in several ways. They are very numerous throughout the different tissues of our bodies. They are also ancient in evolutionary terms, being found in animals as distantly related as humans, mice and even opossums and Tasmanian devils. The cells have changed very little in 150 million years, suggesting they play an important role in health. "But it’s been hard to work out exactly what that key role is," explains Hinks.

It was first suspected they protect us against bacterial infections. Working with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, the Oxford group has since shown that Mait cells can also protect us against viral infections like influenza. Now, the scientists have also discovered a third and potentially very important role for these intriguing cells, in repairing damaged tissue. Professor Paul Klenerman, of the Nuffield Department of Medicine, who led the second research group, added that these cells sensed bacteria and are activated, they turn on genes which can drive the damaged tissue to heal itself. This might be the explanation for why Mait cells have proved so important to animals and humans in the past. He said that the discovery opens up the possibility that these cells could be used in the future in new therapies.

Potentially these cells, which can be activated by simple vitamin-related molecules, could be used to accelerate healing of wounds such as chronic skin ulcers or damaged gut in inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

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