Irish mathematician cracks immunity code

AN Irish mathematician has helped crack complex codes about our immune system which may lead to better treatments for Crohn’s, coeliac disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Ken Duffy, of NUI Maynooth’s Hamilton Institute, made the breakthrough on a team of international scientists aiming to design new vaccines for cripplingillnesses.

The research, published in prestigious US journal Science, turns the existing rules on white blood cell behaviour and the body’s defences on their head.

Dr Duffy said: “The science community will be surprised. This is very much a different way of viewing things. It’s not the standard accepted paradigm.”

The key discovery is that cells react randomly rather than having a pre-determined uniform response to disease.

Dr Duffy has been working on the research since linking up with Professor Philip Hodgkin from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.

The team’s aim is to help design new therapies for auto-immune diseases and improved vaccines and to explore how immune systems can resist bacteria and viruses.

Any further developments on cell reaction could also see studies into treatmentfor common allergies, such as hay fever, and debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The breakthrough was fast-tracked for publication by editors at Science who regard the findings as being of major importance.

Using genetically modified mice, they watched B cells that were exposed to avirus or bacteria. Even though all the cells saw the same external cues, no twobehaved identically.

Dr Duffy, a probability expert, said: “The conundrum is that even though each cell behaves randomly, for given external cues the overall immune response ishighly predictable.”

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