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a major scientific and medical breakthrough

  1. 94 Posts.

    HOMEX - Melbourne

    Key points

    * Immune system stem cells discovered
    * Ability to grow new thymus facilitated
    * Supplements GnRH analogue use

    Norwood's research partners at the Monash University laboratory of
    Associate Professor Richard Boyd have made a further important
    breakthrough in their immunology research programme involving the
    thymus a critical element of the human body immune system.

    Professor Boyd's research group has now discovered, using mice, a
    small population of epithelial stem cells that can be used to
    generate a new, complete, and functional thymus.

    The research results have been published today by the prestigious
    international journal 'Nature Immunology' (
    and are the subject of a separate announcement by Monash University.

    The thymus is a small organ that is critical in generating many vital
    cells of the immune system including 'infection fighting' T cells. In
    some people, the thymus does not work properly due to ageing, attack
    by viruses, chemotherapy or genetic abnormalities. When this happens,
    the body becomes susceptible to infection with the possibility that
    death may result.

    The human thymus shrinks from the size of approximately two small
    apples in children to that of approximately a pea in adults with a
    corresponding reduction in its capacity to generate T cells.

    Work being conducted by Associate Professor Richard Boyd's group at
    Monash University had previously demonstrated that the adult thymus
    could be regrown, using a class of currently marketed drugs -- the
    GnRH analogue molecules.

    This work has been the basis for the discussions already initiated by
    Norwood with selected potential pharmaceutical partners for
    commercial development.

    The importance of this further advance is that it raises the
    possibility, for those adults who do not have any remaining thymic
    tissue or who have a defective thymus (due to disease, age, radiation
    or prior drugs), that it may be feasible to create an entirely new
    and functional organ.

    The discovery - a major scientific and medical breakthrough - is a
    most important and exciting expansion of the Norwood Immunology
    project. Coupled with the ability to use the current GnRH analogue
    drugs there is now the potential opportunity to create a new
    reservoir of T cells for treatment of additional disease states and
    therefore a wider patient base.

    While medical research of this nature is inevitably long term, much
    work has already been completed and the discovery is a step toward
    development of a possible cure/therapy for a number of auto-immune
    diseases such as Type 1 diabetes or in immuno-deficiency situations
    where T cells are depleted, such as in the treatment of many cancers
    or during organ transplantation.

    "A major question in immunology has been how to build a thymus",
    Associate Professor Boyd said. "There are two major cell types to the
    thymus: lymphocytes and the epithelial. It has been known for about
    30 years that haemopoetic stem cells lead to the lymphocytes but,
    until now, we have not known which cells lead to the creation of the

    The thymus epithelium is vital in the immune response because it
    converts haemopoetic stem cells to T cells and then assists in the
    ability of T cells to recognise foreign invaders and also stops T
    cells from attacking body tissues. If there is a defect in the thymus
    then there is a defect in the T cells and a greater predisposition to

    "The discovery of thymic epithelial stem cells is extremely exciting
    for us and has taken 15 years of dedicated research. So far, these
    cells have been found only in mice. Our next task is to find where
    they are in humans. This work has now started in earnest", Associate
    Professor Boyd said.

    For Norwood, the opportunities flowing from its sponsored research
    and licensing arrangements with Monash University, and the associated
    Intellectual Property, have now been significantly expanded.

    Norwood is collaborating with several internationally recognised
    medical research institutions in Australia and North America and is
    in the process of commercialising medical technologies for the
    delivery of drugs and the restoration of the human immune system. To
    find out more about the company, visit

    For further information, please contact:

    Peter Hansen
    (61 3) 9782 7333

    Bernie Romanin
    (61 3) 9782 7333

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