Medical Research

Johns Hopkins University

Abdel Hamad, Thomas Donner, Chunfa Jie, Ruhong Zhou, Mario Suva
Baltimore, MD
June 2019

More than 1% of the world’s population currently lives with an autoimmune disease.  In individuals affected by these conditions, immune cells fail to distinguish between self and foreign antigens, leading to immune attacks on the body itself, with often devastating consequences.  Intense efforts have been directed toward understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying this abnormal immune response so that effective protective and therapeutic interventions can be developed for the nearly 100 known autoimmune diseases.  Yet critical gaps remain in our understanding of autoimmunity, including the identification of all cell types involved.  These deficiencies are reflected in the failures of recent clinical trials aimed at protecting those at risk of one of the most prevalent autoimmune diseases – type 1 diabetes (T1D).  The goal of this project is to test the hypothesis that a previously unknown immune cell type – the X cell – plays a central role in driving autoimmunity and holds the key to future treatments.  Investigators at Johns Hopkins University discovered X cells during their quest for rare pathogenic cells in T1D patients.  The team found that these cells are a hybrid between T and B cells, the two known distinct arms of the adaptive immune system.  The Johns Hopkins investigators, in collaboration with researchers from Des Moines, Columbia and Harvard Universities, aim to confirm the unique identity of X cells by characterizing the genes that are commonly and differentially expressed in X, B and T cells.  They will also investigate the role of X cells in the pathogenesis of T1D, challenging the current dogma that T and B cells are the sole adaptive immune cells driving autoimmunity.  It is expected that the information learned here would shed light on a possible wider role of X cells in other autoimmune diseases.

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