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Emergency Back Up Plan For Human Immune System

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Aired 12/22/10

A UCSD researcher and his team have discovered the human immune system has an emergency backup plan.

— A UCSD researcher and his team have discovered the human immune system has an emergency backup plan.

Both of the human immune systems seem to be able to fight infection and inflammation.

Michael Karin, PhD, a UCSD distinguished pharmacology professor, wanted to find a way to help people treat inflammation without compromising their immune system.

“It's like you have brakes on your car, you have a hand brake too, and accelerator, that’s known," said Karin. "What was not known is what would happen if you inhibit one system. Would the other system take over?”

The answer to his question turned out to be yes. His research on mice found a secondary immune system kicks in, when the first one is shut down.

“We had no idea that they operate independently of each other and one can actually serve as a back up for the other system,” said Karin.

The discovery is important because many anti-inflammatory drugs compromise the immune system, leading to a significant increased risk of infection.

Karin says he hopes his findings will lead to novel drug development that utilizes both immune systems to treat inflammation while minimizing the risk of infection.

However, Karin warns the backup immune system is only a short-term fix. He says backup immunity cells are used up quickly, resulting in a deadly shut-down of both immune systems.

Karin's immunity study appears in the online issue of the journal Nature Immunology .

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