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UofA researchers say infection may help immune systems of people over 65

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Many people retire at the age of age of 65. That’s also the age when their immune system starts to lose some of its strength. A new University of Arizona study may help to change that.

The study used 92 volunteers between the ages of 21 and 97 and studied white blood cells that fight infection and decrease in numbers as adults age.

“We’re trying to enumerate them to see if their numbers will tell us how fit one’s immune system might be,” said Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, the Co-Director of the University of Arizona’s Center on Aging.

He says viruses can multiply within minutes, and that can can be a problem.

“Our own cells are trying also to multiply to catch up with them,” Nikolich-Zugich said. “If you don’t have enough of them to start with, sometimes you are at such a disadvantage that you can never catch up.”

He said that a lot of progress has been made because of the study.

“We have discovered a new sub-type, a new flavor of white blood cells, that tends to accumulate in older folks that could be very useful in defending against certain types of infections,” said Nikolich-Zugich.

The University of Arizona says that the breakthrough came while researchers were focusing on cells called naïve T cells. They discovered that when the cells were stimulated with a piece of a virus, part of the cells began making a powerful anti-viral molecule. Dr. Nikolich-Zugich says that one of the next steps is to count the number of these cells in a person’s blood sample,

He said the challenge is to figure out who is more vulnerable to diseases and what can be done to help them.

The study was published online in “Nature Immunology.”

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