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Aussie discovery could improve management of viral infection

08/11/2017By Matthew Woodley
Australian researchers from the Lion’s Eye Institute have helped identify a new ‘first line of defence’ in the body’s fight against viral infection.

According to the study, this recently identified sub-set of immune cells serve an essential early role in fighting infection through rapid production of an important anti-viral protein. The newly defined role of the cells, known as type 1 innate lymphoid cells (iLC1s), challenges the belief that the body’s immune response to viral infection is primarily dealt with by other well described immune cells.

The LEI’s Dr Iona Schuster says ILC1s had only been identified and described in the last few years and their role in the immune response to viral infection had not been well understood until now.


“This paper is the first time we’ve managed to show that ILC1s play a really important role in the early response to viral infection.”
Iona Schuster, Lion's Eye Institute

“This paper is the first time we’ve managed to show that ILC1s play a really important role in the early response to viral infection,” she said.

“They’re like the foot soldiers, they are present in a tissue for immediate surveillance and when a virus comes in, following activation signals from other cells in the tissue, they respond extremely fast and execute a previously unappreciated protective function.

“They help control viruses before the big guns – other immune lymphocytes known as natural killer cells and T cells – are recruited into battle to completely eliminate the infection,” Schuster added.

LEI director of research Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti said ongoing studies were examining the role of this new cell population in responses to infection at other barrier sites, such as the eye, and were also investigating the role they play in response to malignancy.

“These are pioneering studies and the future is very exciting as this research is putting a missing piece in the puzzle that will lead to major changes in understanding and controlling viral infection and cancer,” she said.

The discovery was made as part of a collaborative research effort with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

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