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Belgian researchers advance in potential asthma research

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Researchers in the immunophysiology laboratory of the GIGA institute for interdisciplinary research in biomedical science (University of Liège) have made a small advance in researching the lung’s immune system that in the future could assist in the better targeting of pulmonary conditions like asthma, the university disclosed on Tuesday.

The researchers, headed by Pr. Thomas Marichal, focused on a certain type of lung cell, the interstitial macrophages. These are cells stemming from white corpuscles that develop by infiltrating tissue and contribute to the immune system protecting the lungs.

Some of the team had previously observed that these cells can play a part in the prevention of asthma, but more needed to be understood about their function and specific characteristics.

It emerges from the new study that two very distinct types of interstitial macrophages may be observed that have a different function and are also located in two different areas lining the lungs. “It is important from now on to consider them as distinct entities in future research,” the University of Liège stated in a press release.

The team also identified the source of one of the interstitial macrophage sub-populations: it originates directly from the “patrolling” monocytes that leave the circulating blood to reach the lungs.

The study was the subject of an article in the journal Nature Communications, the main author of which is researcher Joey Schyns. It is only the first stage of a more extensive research project, financed by the ERC (European Research Council) Starting Grant. The project should eventually “allow the detailed understanding of the mechanisms behind the fine regulation of the sub-populations of macrophages, and provide elements essential to the development of targeted approaches to the prevention of respiratory illnesses involving macrophage (dis)functions.”

The Brussels Times