Scientists have learned more about how the body fights infection. Immune cells called T killer cells have been observed to devour and destroy invading viruses. Scientists had previously thought these T killer cells were drawn to molecular patterns. While this is partly the case, we now know that in addition, cells infected by viruses summon T killers in their death throes.
They do this by releasing substances known as “alarmins,” particularly one called interleukin 33. Interleukin 33 is found in cells in the spleen, where T killers wait until they’re needed. As those cells die, interleukin 33 is released and lets the T killers know they are needed to cleanse the body of disease.
The T killers themselves, according to another study, have an off-duty phase. They go off-duty when they’re used to something. Cancers sometimes spread in part by acclimating, inducing the T killers to go off-duty. However, doctors are looking at ways to tag cancer cells to make them more visible to the immune system and get T killer cells to attack them.