For decades, scientists have tried to manipulate the immune system to fight disease, but finding the right tools to crank up or slow down immune cells hasn't been easy. Now immunologists may have finally struck gold, in the form of a white blood cell known as a regulatory, or suppressor, T cell. Such cells are the levers that quiet the immune system. Keep them subdued, some scientists predict, and it soon will be possible to wipe out intractable pathogens that cause hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and even annihilate cancer cells.
Numerous laboratory studies in the 1970s proved that suppression existed; unfortunately, there was nothing to distinguish these cells from other, similar T cells in the body. And because the experiments were hard to reproduce, immunologists eventually gave up on the idea.
This article was originally published with the title Subduing Suppressors.