Powder could help fight viruses

March 13, 2008 4:52:12 PM PDT
Last week, the makers of the popular supplement "Airborne" agreed to pay $23 million dollars to settle a false advertising suit, for claiming to boost the immune system.

Now a team of biomedical engineers has published research on a powder that could turn out to be the real thing, one that could eventually be used to fight cancer.

This small vial holds a powder that biomedical engineer Tarek Fahmy believes could one day supercharge our immune systems.

"This is a system that can be used to rectify the immune system and enable it to fight in an unprecedented way," said Yale University Associate Professor Tarek Fahmy, Ph.D.

The powder consists of tiny particles made from a biodegradable material already in use in surgical sutures.

Fahmy and his colleague Erin Steenblock loaded these particles with a natural chemical that our bodies use to boost immune system activity. The particles attach to immune system cells called "T CELLS."

"Those T-cells, you can think of as professional policemen that are actually patrolling the body, looking for anything that can go wrong," said Fahmy, Ph.D.

In their recent study published in the Journal "Molecular Therapy", researchers isolated t-cells from mouse blood, then sprinkled in their powder. They found the particles joined with the T-Cells and multiplied.

"The cells expand like crazy, they, when they see these particles. They expand in number, we, last count was about a 45-fold increase," said Fahmy, Ph.D.

The powder they're testing now activates T-Cells that attack cancer tumors. But researchers say in the future, the powder could be designed to help battle infectious diseases from aids to the flu.

Researchers say they're seeing very promising early results in tests on mice with tumors.

DR. Fahmy says it's likely to make it to human trials quickly since all of the materials used are natural, biodegradable and already have FDA approval.