Scientists at Oxford University have discovered a group of abundant cells that can help repair damaged tissues in our body. According to scientists, these cells could be used to treat diseases such as infections of the lung, the bowel, or the skin.
Dr. Timothy Hinks, of the University’s Experimental Medicine Division, said, “MAIT cells are remarkable in several ways. They are very numerous throughout the different tissues of our bodies. They are also ancient in evolutionary terms, is 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.”
Earlier, these cells are believed to play a vital role in defense against bacterial infections. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, scientists determined the MAIT cells and suspected that the cells can also protect us against viral infections like influenza.
Professor Paul Klenerman, of the Nuffield Department of Medicine, said, “But now we have also discovered a third and potentially vital role for these intriguing cells, in repairing damaged tissue.”
“When these cells sense bacteria and are activated, they turn on genes which can drive the damaged tissue to heal itself. This may be the explanation for why MAIT cells have proved so important to animals and humans in the past.”
“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.”
As well as the Oxford BRC, Professor Klenerman and Dr Hinks are funded by the Wellcome Trust. The research was published in the journal Cell Reports.