Myriad RBM Test Helping to Mine Secrets of Normal Immune System

4/16/14Follow @tanseyverse

Scientists have long known that an abnormal immune system can help cause diseases such as asthma and Type 1 diabetes. But to understand what makes an immune system abnormal, it’s important to know exactly what a normal immune system looks like. Oddly enough, few large-scale studies have been done to explore the immune systems of healthy people to see how much they can differ from each other and still be considered in the normal range.

However, one such study is now under way, a big collaboration between the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, and Austin, TX-based Myriad RBM, a subsidiary of diagnostic testing company Myriad Genetics (Nasdaq: MYGN) of Salt Lake City, UT. The first paper from this initiative, which is called the Milieu Interieur project, has recently been published in the scientific journal Immunity. It has already revealed some surprising results.

Using Myriad RBM’s assay system called TruCulture, the Institut Pasteur measured the proteins pumped out by the immune cells of 25 healthy trial participants after cells were exposed to 27 different irritants, one by one, in test tubes. These immune-stimulating agents included a flu virus strain, bacteria that can cause diarrhea or stomach cancer, and drugs such as a vaccine for tuberculosis. Among the healthy people tested, two never produced one of the key proteins released by the other trial participants, no matter what irritant their immune cells were exposed to in a TruCulture assay tube.

The protein missing from those two people is interleukin one alpha (IL-1α), which plays a role in rheumatologic diseases and hereditary auto-inflammatory disorders. “These people have a hole in their immune system,” says Ralph McDade, president of Myriad RBM.

The significance of the finding about the missing protein has yet to be discovered, the research partners say. It might mean that these two trial subjects will respond differently than other people to drugs that work by activating the immune system, such as vaccines. If so, doctors might, some day, routinely base some of their prescribing decisions on a diagnostic test that would reveal a patient’s inability to produce IL-1α.

The full Milieu Interieur project will probably raise hundreds of such questions for scientists to explore. The 25-person study, in men and women aged 30 to 39, was an initial trial run for what will eventually be a more comprehensive look at … Next Page »

Bernadette Tansey is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, CA. Follow @tanseyverse

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