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Clinical studies link chance of disease to gender

Photo: Research links chance of disease to gender
The likelihood of men developing obesity and related metabolic diseases and women to suffer from autoimmune diseases has been linked to their immune systems.

Differences in male and female immune systems may have a direct link to men's propensity to develop obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes and women to suffer more from certain autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.

University of Melbourne lead researcher Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar said discovering differences between certain male and female cells was a "remarkable breakthrough" as scientists have previously been unable to understand the differences between male and female immune systems.

Researching male and female adipose tissue, or body fat, a team at the Doherty Institute and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute discovered striking differences in the numbers and function of an immune cell population called regulatory T cells, or Treg cells, between male and female mice.
Treg cells play a central role in the body by dampening inflammation, autoimmunity and maintaining the health of many tissues, including the body fat tissue, the researchers said.

Importantly, this tissue is not only stores energy, but also plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism, appetite and inflammation, as well as producing different hormones.

University of Melbourne Professor Axel Kallies, senior author and laboratory head at the Doherty Institute, said with the "unprecedented worldwide rise of obesity and metabolic disease", the findings are important when considering new therapeutic approaches.

"We are now exploring whether similar mechanisms are at play in autoimmune diseases and in cancers," Professor Kallies said on Thursday.

"For too long the male physiology and the male immune system was considered the 'norm' in research and in clinical studies. Our work shows that important differences exists between the sexes.

"This means that the strategies to treat a range of diseases may have to be different between men and women."

The findings, from the team at the Doherty Institute and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute at the University of Melbourne, are published in the journal Nature.

Researchers at Monash University and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre also collaborated.


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