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New Research Shows Why Older People More Susceptible to Skin Infections

Posted: September 8, 2009

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However, when experiments were carried out with healthy young individuals under the age of 40 years and older individuals over the age of 70 years in this study, it was shown that in fact there is nothing wrong with the T-cells in the older group; instead it is the inability of their skin tissue to attract T-cells where and when they are needed that is the source of reduced immunity.

Professor Akbar added, "Knowing this now raises the question of whether the same defect also occurs in other tissues during aging. Is it possible that, for example, lung tissues also fail to give out the right message to T-cells to bring them into the tissue to do their job? This may explain, in part, the higher rates of lung cancer, chest infections and pneumonia in older people, perhaps.

"We also, obviously, would like to know if it is possible to reverse the skin defect in older people. We've done some experiments that show that, at least in the test tube, it is possible to make older skin express the missing signals that attract T-cells. This indicates that, in principle, the defect is entirely reversible. Once we get to the bottom of exactly which part of the signal to T-cells has gone wrong we might then be in a position to intervene to boost skin immunity in older people."

BBSRC deputy chief executive Steve Visscher said, "We are living longer and longer, but we need to ensure that a long life is also a healthy one. What Professor Akbar and his team have identified is a normal part of the aging process that contributes to disease and therefore reduced quality of life in older people. The more knowledge we have about healthy aging, the better we get at preventing, managing and treating diseases that are simply a factor of an ageing body."

Adapted from materials provided by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.