Sunday, May 21, 2017

Helping the body tolerate infections

Usha Lee McFarling writes at Scientific American about one physiologist who wants us to stop worrying so much about fighting infections and instead help the body tolerate them. Her name is Janelle Ayres.
An associate professor at the Salk Institute in the heart of San Diego’s booming biotech beach, Ayres is harnessing all manner of high-tech tools from the fields of microbiomics, genetics, and immunology—and looking to a menagerie of animals—to sort out why some individuals tolerate infection so much better than others....They went on to propose that the immune response to pathogens wasn’t the whole story, and that tolerance—a body’s ability to minimize damage while infected—may play a key role as well. Ayres has since gone on to call what she studies the “tolerance defense system.”

...In fact, it was a 19th-century paper on plants that remained healthy despite being infected with leaf rust that helped inform Ayre’s thinking on tolerance. “It had never been looked at in animals, never described in animals,” she said, speaking with her characteristic rapid-fire enthusiasm. “That’s why you should always read papers outside your bubble.”
(She’s also fascinated with Typhoid Mary, the chef who sickened dozens and killed three in the early 1900s in New York, but somehow tolerated her own infection.)

...Society needs drugs that don’t target bacteria, which can so quickly evolve to evade our best medicines, she argues.

Instead, she thinks we can harness those bacteria—even the ones normally classified as pathogens— to make new drugs that save lives by targeting an infected person’s tissues and organs. That would be an entirely new class of therapeutics, which could lessen our dependence on antibiotics and help save lives in cases, like her father’s, where antibiotics fail.
Read more here.

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