Immunologists To Meet Beside The Sea

November 17, 1997

The British Society for Immunology will hold its 5th Annual Congress at the Brighton Centre from 2-5 December 1997. Speakers will be arriving from all over the world, as well as Britain, to share progress made towards a better understanding of the immune system.

A properly functioning immune system is essential for our health, enabling us to fight off infectious diseases. But it is a complex system involving many different cells and molecules, with diverse checks and balances to keep it running smoothly. By understanding the mechanisms by which the cells and molecules communicate with each other, immunologists are better placed to understand what goes wrong in diseases where the immune system is out of control or not responding correctly. They can also try to manipulate the immune system to fight disease more effectively.

On the first day of the meeting, in the session on Cancer and the immune system, scientists will describe their attempts to use the body's natural defences to destroy cancer cells. Amongst the science being described in this session will be attempts to put white blood cells to work to fight cervical cancer, and the use of monoclonal antibodies to seek out and destroy cancer cells, without the harmful side-effects associated with conventional cancer treatments.

Another major theme at the meeting will be ways to improve the success of transplantation. Corneal grafts restore sight to 60,000 people worldwide each year but up to a quarter of these transplants fail. At the Congress attempts to improve the success rate using artifical viruses to deliver gene therapy will be described. In another presentation, transplantation of primitive blood cells into a fetus in the womb could provide the cure for blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia.

Increasingly, immunologists are realising that what we eat can affect the functioning of our immune system. In a workshop on the final day of the Congress speakers will explore how different types of fat in the diet can have subtle effects on elements of the immune system and the progress of disease. Diseases in which the type of fat in the diet could have an effect include rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

Other topics to be discussed include why some children suffer worse symptoms of malaria than others, and how understanding the biochemistry of a rare immunodeficiency disease could lead not only to gene therapy for that disease, but also to a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind autoimmune diseases such as diabetes.

Information on specific papers will be available on EurekAlert shortly. Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting but are asked to contact Kirstie Urquhart in advance to register.

British Society For Immunology

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