Researchers from the University of Hull have presented some of the latest research in fighting germs and combatting disease at the British Science Festival. Dr Stefano Caserta and Dr Cheryl Walter experts in immunology and microbiology, both from the University of Hull, presented their latest research on viruses, bacteria and other deadly germs in a talk titled ‘Germ warfare’ which addressed how we can improve the immune system’s memory to survive a deadly germ attack.
Dr Caserta’s research examines the use of naturally occurring protein produced by the human body, known as Interleukin-7 (IL-7), that strengthens our existing defence by helping the immune system to remember germs that it has encountered before. The work has been published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Dr Caserta said: “Our immune system needs memory cells to fight germ infections which otherwise can progress into severe and even lethal disease. The research has shown that use of IL-7 can enhance the natural reactions of our body against germs diffused around us. This study is important because it opens up new avenues to strengthen memory in severe infections, including sepsis.”
Although it has been known that IL-7 helps memory cells for some time, it has never previously been shown that it can specifically be used to selectively support cells to recognise germs recently encountered by our body. This opens up a whole new range of diagnostic and therapeutic applications, especially useful in those complications (such as sepsis) where it is difficult to know whether patients properly respond to invading germs.
Dr Caserta was also part of a team of researchers, led by Dr Alejandra Pera from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who undertook research that explored the link between a common herpes virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and cardiovascular death risk.
The paper research, which was recently published in the Theranostics journal, demonstrated that although most people carry CMV and it is considered to be fairly harmless, CMV infection is closely associated with high numbers of activated memory-like cells linked to heart disease.
Dr Pera said: “Our work with Brighton and Sussex Medical School shows that an infection by CMVis responsible for the accumulation of high numbers of unusual immune cells (CD28null CD4 T cells), and not age, that are linked to coronary heart disease and advance atherosclerosis. This opens new avenues for the treatment and prevention of these conditions by simply targeting this virus.”