Bats could help humans build immunity to deadly diseases: Aussie scientists

Bats could help humans build immunity to deadly diseases: Aussie scientists

Dr. Michele Baker of CSIRO. (csiro.au)

In other mammalian species, having the immune response constantly switched on is dangerous ..."
Canberra (ANTARA News) - Australian scientists believe that bats could hold the key to developing immunity to lethal diseases, after it was discovered their immune systems were "on 24/7".

Unlike the human immune system, which only kicks in once the body has identified a virus is present, the bats are constantly protected from deadly diseases, despite often carrying up to 100 at a time.

Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) discovered that - unlike in humans - the immune system of the bat also negates any effects of lethal diseases such as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola and Hendra virus.

Dr. Michelle Baker from the CSIROs Australian Animal Health Laboratory said the discovery could assist scientists in protecting humans from those deadly diseases.

"Unlike people and mice, who activate their immune systems only in response to infection, the bats interferon-alpha is constantly switched on acting as a 24/7 front line defence against diseases," Baker said in a statement on Tuesday.

"In other mammalian species, having the immune response constantly switched on is dangerous - for example its toxic to tissue and cells - whereas the bat immune system operates in harmony.

"If we can redirect other species immune responses to behave in a similar manner to that of bats, then the high death rate associated with diseases, such as Ebola, could be a thing of the past." Baker said scientists studied the bats as they are known to be carriers of a number of deadly diseases, however contrary to popular belief, they do not feel the associated effects.

Baker said super interferons, which monitor the immune systems response, were responsible for the bats immunity to killer viruses.

"Whenever our body encounters a foreign organism, like bacteria or a virus, a complicated set of immune responses are set in motion, one of which is the defense mechanism known as innate immunity," Baker said.

"We focused on the innate immunity of bats, in particular the role of interferons - which are integral for innate immune responses in mammals - to understand whats special about how bats respond to invading viruses."

"Interestingly we have shown that bats only have three interferons which is only a fraction - about a quarter - of the number of interferons we find in people."

"This is surprising given bats have this unique ability to control viral infections that are lethal in people and yet they can do this with a lower number of interferons."

The discovery is the latest in an attempt to further understand bat immunity, so that authorities can help protect Australia and its people from "exotic and emerging" infectious diseases.

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