Rare immune cell is asset and liability in fighting infection

The same trait that makes a rare immune cell invaluable in fighting some infections also can be exploited by other diseases to cause harm, two new studies show. By studying the basic functions of these cells, scientists are laying the groundwork to use them to fight infections. The cells also appear to be essential for some cancer vaccines, which enlist the power of the immune system to help fight tumors.

Calm and steady

For years, electronic surveillance has been used to track and capture a host of evil suspects — terrorists, mobsters and spies among them. Keith Woeltje, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, relies on electronic surveillance, too. He is a modern-day microbe hunter, tracking bugs that are invisible to the naked eye but capable of causing mayhem in hospitals.

Strep bacteria spreads infection via wasplike ‘stinger’

An electron micrograph of strep bacteria infecting muscle tissueMicrobiologists at the School of Medicine discovered that Strep A, the bacteria responsible for strep throat and other more serious disorders, has a wasplike “stinger” it uses to infect cells. Scientists had expected to find a random profusion of pumps for spraying infection-related compounds. The newly discovered, dedicated stinger could prove to be an easier target for new infection-preventing drugs.