A research team has developed a new method for treating immunodeficiency by using drugs and vitamins to change the structure of abnormal or unhealthy white blood cells, academic sources said yesterday.
Shieh Chi-chang (謝奇璋), a pediatrician at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) Hospital who heads the project, said the new therapy could one day be used to treat various immune cell-related diseases, such as chronic granulomatous disease (CGD).
The research has won recognition from the US-based journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, which is going to publish the team’s research paper detailing the new therapy, Shieh said, adding that his team had acquired Taiwanese patent rights to the new therapy.
Of all the research around the world in the field, Shieh said, only the NCKU team has succeeded in developing the therapy in white blood cells.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the treatment regimen was still only at the animal testing stage and that human clinical trials have not begun.
Shieh said the research team targeted molecular quality control machinery in leukocytes as its research base. The researchers isolated immunodeficient white blood cells and treated them with drugs and a vitamin as an enzyme cofactor before injecting them back into laboratory animals. By inhibiting the function of cellular quality control molecules (or “chaperons”), the treatment enables the mutant proteins to reach their respective destinations in the cell and salvage their original immune activity.
“By doing this, the immune functions of the subject’s white blood cells can be enhanced under conditions that present the least risk,” Shieh said.
Noting that immunodeficiency is primarily caused by genetic mutations or is inherited, Shieh said early diagnosis of a person with such a problem can be made from his or her susceptibility to serious and frequent infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis and osteomyelitis, and by retarded growth.
“With early diagnosis and effective treatment, children with immunodeficiency can enjoy a normal life,” he said.