Beautiful Science

PHOTO: AGENCY FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH

Dendritic cells act as the brain of the body's immune system. They integrate information from microbes, understanding and analysing the threat posed to the body before deciding if the immune system should be activated, says Dr Florent Ginhoux from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN).

The image above shows two dendritic cell types. The cells coloured blue represent human plasmacytoid dendritic cells, which provide an immune response against viral infections. The purple cell represents a myeloid CD1c dendritic cell, which provides instructions that activate T cells - a type of white blood cell.

By using laser light to identify different cells obtained from mouse, macaque and human tissues, the SIgN team and their collaborators developed a standardised method for differentiating dendritic cells across tissues and species.

The method will help scientists unlock the therapeutic potential of dendritic cells by identifying the best cell subtypes to target for vaccines, for instance.

"For years, dendritic cell research has been plagued by the fact that the scientific community lacked a common language. Every lab used different markers for dendritic cell analysis, and it was difficult to compare results," said Dr Ginhoux. "Now, we finally have a universal toolbox for the automated identification of dendritic cells."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2017, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe