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Looking for new cells


How much of the immune system do we understand?
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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The big gap is therapy, isn't it? Anything from removing the barrier to organ transplantation, cell transplantation, through to making, allowing free transplantation of stem cells, overcoming- overcoming the old homographed reaction as it used to be called; science-based treatment of auto immune disease rather than empirical treatments. The real scientific basis for the therapy of auto immune disease I think isn't there but is on the way. Allergy, again, a somewhat neglected field, badly needs to be put on to, I think on to a scientific basis. So I certainly don't think that we're all the way there. Will there be really major developments? I think, I guess that there will be, I think for example, you can ask about suppressor cells. Okay, there's one- there's one transcription factor which seems to be enormously important, we know nothing about its downstream activity. That's bound to be relevant to therapy I would have thought, and bound to be relevant to our understand of the way the immune system works. And I think, of course I think that the field that I am particularly interested in, which is non-coding DNA, regulatory DNA, is- it's a fantastic field, there is an enormous amount of miscellaneous information, it's absolutely not generalisable or subject to general laws. Nobody knows how to predict transcription factor binding sites accurately yet, there's so much sliding on DNA and so much uncertainty about the exact nature of transcription factor binding sites. And certainly the assembly of the enhanceosome the whole complex of transcription factors and other proteins which bind to them, the assembly of that lump, critical lump which contacts polymerase II and starts transcription, you can write about. The great text book of- current text book of molecular cell biology does write about it at some length but there is no hint in that of a- in that presentation, of a general theory of a kind which could be used for example in the design of drugs of intervention. At this moment it is thought that the- the statins may act, at least in part, by targeting one particular enhanceosome of the Class 2 transactivator. It is uncertain whether that, how important that is in vivo, and it's most certainly an important- and unknown how important that is in understanding the beneficial- the widespread beneficial effects of statins. So I think that's a whole area which will be- in 500 years we will know much more about, and I bet we will know more about it within five years.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010