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Waves of immune inspiration

14th August 2007

Scientists have discovered a way to direct white blood cells towards microbes.

Their findings could pave the way for better treatments of cancer and heart disease.

Using a very high-resolution light microscope, they discovered microscopic waves which are made of a signaling protein that directs cell movement.

It was already known that the protein was instrumental to making cells move but not that it generated self-sustaining waves.

White blood cells, which defend the body from attack by potentially harmful microbes, were propelled by the waves towards a chemical signal emitted by the microbes.

Orion Weiner, who led the team of scientists, said the discovery "was easily the most instantly thrilling and illuminating finding [of his] scientific career".

"We never expected to see this sort of complex behavior within cells, but in retrospect it is an absolutely ingenious way to organise cell movement," he added.

"We're getting our first glimpses that take us beyond knowing that this protein is important for cell motility to learning how it might organize the complex choreography of cell movement."

The study is available in the August 13th online edition of the journal Public Library of Science Biology.