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Taiwanese researchers find key to treating autoimmune diseases

2011/10/12 11:22:50

Taipei, Oct. 12 (CNA) A local research team has identified a protein kinase -- an enzyme that modifies other proteins -- that could be a key to treating autoimmune diseases and even leukemia or lymphoma, the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) said Tuesday.

Tan Tse-hua, director of the NHRI's Immunology Research Center, who headed the research team, said the protein kinase MAP4K3/GLK is found in higher-than-normal amounts in the blood of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus, an autoimmune disease.

"The kinase MAP4K3/GLK acts like a faucet in the human immune system. The higher the amount of this substance in T cells, the more severe the autoimmune disease," Tan said.

That means that the kinase MAP4K3/GLK can be used as a new diagnostic biomarker and therapeutic target for lupus patients, Tan said.

The findings were based in part on experiments in mice. Tan said MAP4K3/GLK-deficient mice had impaired immune responses and were resistant to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis -- an experimental form of multiple sclerosis that scientists use in laboratory animals.

The discovery was published in the latest issue of Nature Immunology, a prestigious peer-reviewed magazine.

The research team, composed of researchers from the NHRI and Taichung Veterans General Hospital, has applied for patents for the discovery with Taiwanese and U.S. authorities, and Tan said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already granted a provisional patent.

He said the research team will cooperate with the NHRI's Institute of Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Research to develop target drugs based on the discovery.

Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body -- where the body actually attacks cells that it mistakes for pathogens.

Tan said the NHRI research team worked with Taichung Veterans General Hospital in studying the conditions of more than 100 lupus patients.

"Over 80 percent of them endure debilitating pain because existing drugs do not function in a satisfactory manner," Tan said, but that could change if the discovery leads to methods of treatment.

"We believe that so long as we can develop something to inhibit the secretion of MAP4K3/GLK, we will be able to effectively treat lupus and other automimmune diseases, and even leukemia," Tan said.

(By Chen Ching-fang and Sofia Wu)
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