Forget outer space or the deep ocean or even the quantum realm. Our bodies are a microcosm of its own, with many parts and processes we still don’t completely understand. One of those is our body’s own immune system that protects us from diseases. Its most lethal weapon, the T cells, are also unfortunately also the cause of some life-threatening diseases. Doctors are now seeing, for the first time, the T-cells’ “safety test” training recorded on video which can hopefully inform them how to properly train these killers.
T-cells are responsible for killing harmful cells in the body like bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, sometimes they go crazy and start attacking innocent cells as well. When this happens, the body develops autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes. The key to fixing this might be by learning how T-cells learn to kill in the first place.
These Killer T-cells don’t “know” what cells to kill. It learns how to differentiate between bad cells and normal cells in “cell assassination classroom”, a.k.a. the thymus just above the heart. Here, the purple and white T-cells below are tested by yellow dendritic cells if they react to self-antigens or normal body proteins. If the T-cell turns whiter, that means it wrongly identified the cell, thinking it’s a bad one. If left unchecked, such a cell would start attacking normal cells in the body. Fortunately, they self-destruct.
That safety test process has previously been invisible to doctors and immunologists. Researchers from thee University of Texas at Austin, however, have developed a system that fires lasers in short pulses and scans live tissue every 15 seconds. In a sense, they take multiple snapshots of the positions and movement of the cells in the thymus in order to observe the process.
Seeing what happens in the thymus could lead to a better understanding of how T-cells develop their killing sense. This, in turn, could help fight autoimmune disorders or prevent them from happening in the first place.