The immune system depends on molecules on the surface of white blood cells to “see” the outside world. The system relies on those molecules, called T cell receptors, to recognize and rally the immune system to respond to viruses, bacteria, cancer cells or other threats.
The immune system does its best to be ready. Scientists estimate that at any given time every person has the ability to make about 100 million different T cell receptors. Each receptor can identify a particular threat.
Until now, scientists have not understood the rules of this complex game and how to harness the immune system to protect us. Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle have developed a tool that helps decode the process.
“This lays the groundwork for designing T cell receptors that recognize cancer or new viruses, which should help us use the immune system more effectively,” said Paul Thomas, PhD, of the St. Jude Department of Immunology.
The research appeared in Nature.