"With this new method, we can identify more
than twelve thousand peptide antigens, whereas before, we could only see the tip
of the iceberg," explains immunologist Dr Cécile van Els
of the National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM).
The new method, developed by the group of Albert Heck at the Science Faculty of
Utrecht University, is not only much more sensitive, but also makes more routine
Peptide antigens are small pieces of proteins on the
outside of cells that can be used to distinguish "good" from "bad" cells, which
then may be cleared by the immune system. Bad cells in this context are infected
with a virus or bacteria, or cells that are deformed, such as
It is of vital importance for the development of
vaccines and cancer immunotherapy to know which antigens alert the immune
system. Up till now, it was not possible to get a complete picture of this
process. In the best case, only a few hunderds of peptide antigens could be
identified. But now, the researchers detected 12,000 of them, close to what is
expected to be the maximum.
The new method is also a very powerful technique for
demonstrating the subtle differences between healthy cells and damaged cells,
according to PhD candidate Geert Mommen of Intravacc. Of the twelve thousand
peptide antigens, there are maybe a few dozen damaged ones that actually deviate
from or are completely different from healthy cells. Researchers have found more
proof that these deviating or unique peptide antigens are best equipped to
prepare our immune system for the fight against cancer.
"Currently, a lot of research is being conducted
cancer immunotherapy," adds Heck. "Science has even called this the
break-through of the year 2013, but in actual fact, the therapy is still in its
infancy. The good thing about immunotherapy is that it does not destroy or
healthy cells. With our new method, researchers will obtain significantly
more information about our
immune system. We hope that this information will help them with the further
development of cancer treatment."
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