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Category: Infectious Diseases
Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia recently discovered that the presence of a gene known as Arih2, which usually functions to preserve embryos, may help combat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis as well as blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, Reuters reported.
"If the gene is on, it dampens ... the immune response. And if you switch it off, it greatly enhances immune responses," lead investigator Marc Pellegrini, M.B., B.S., B.Sc., told the news source via telephone. "It is probably one of the few genes and pathways that is very targetable and could lead to a drug very quickly."
While Arih2 was originally discovered in fruit flies by another group of scientists, Pellegrini and his colleagues took an interest in the gene because they believed it had implications for immune system functioning. According to Reuters, the researchers extracted the gene from adult mice and they found that its absence increased the activity of the animals' immune systems.
The vigilant immune systems in the mice were effective for six weeks, but eventually they attacked the animals' bodies. Pellegrini noted that further research on Arih2 may help produce an effective drug treatment that can combat a plethora of infectious and autoimmune diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that by the end of 2009, nearly 1,148,200 individuals were living with HIV, which can be diagnosed with a blood test, and that almost 50,000 people in the U.S. contract the virus annually. In that same year, the source notes that there were approximately 16,000 new hepatitis C infections reported in the United States, while nearly 3.2 million people are currently living with the ailment in the U.S.
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