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Cymraeg

Key to immune system disease could lie inside the cheek

21 March 2012

Powerful new cells created by Cardiff University scientists from cheek lining tissue could offer the answer to disorders of the immune system.

While the body’s immune system protects against many diseases, it can also be harmful. Using white blood cells (lymphocytes), the system can attack insulin-producing cells, causing diabetes, or cause the body to reject transplanted organs.

A team from Cardiff’s School of Dentistry led by Professor Phil Stephens, with colleagues from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, have found a new group of cells with a powerful ability to suppress the immune system’s action.

The team took oral lining cells from the insides of patients’ cheeks and cloned them. Laboratory tests showed that even small doses of the cells could completely inhibit the lymphocytes.

The breakthrough suggests that the cheek cells have wide-ranging potential for future therapies for immune system-related diseases. Existing immune system research has focussed on adult stem cells, particularly those derived from bone marrow. The cheek tissue cells are much stronger in their action.

Dr Lindsay Davies, a member of the Cardiff team, said: "At this stage, these are only laboratory results. We have yet to recreate the effect outside the laboratory and any treatments will be many years away. However, these cells are extremely powerful and offer promise for combating a number of diseases. They are also easy to collect – bone marrow stem cells require an invasive biopsy, whereas we just harvest a small biopsy from inside the mouth."

The findings have just been published online in Stem Cells and Development. The team has now been funded by the Medical Research Council to investigate the cloned cells further.

Notes to Editors

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, the University today combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of Britain’s leading research universities.

The University website is at: www.cardiff.ac.uk .

The Violence and Society Research Group website is at www.cardiff.ac.uk/vrg .

For further information, please contact:

Stephen Rouse

Public Relations Office,

Cardiff University

Telephone: 029 20875596,

Email: RouseS@cardiff.ac.uk