Killer cells could fight anthrax

Researchers have found that natural killer cells, a part of the immune system associated with eliminating tumor cells and cells infected by viruses, also attack bacteria, including anthrax.
Biodefense experts are concerned with inhalational anthrax because a relatively small number of inhaled anthrax spores can quickly turn into a lethal infection, Medical News Today reports. By the time a victim of anthrax realizes it is something worse than the flu and seeks treatment, it can often be too late. Understanding how NK cells can be an ally in the fight against anthrax may improve the chances of survival more than powerful antibiotics alone.

"People become ill so suddenly from inhalational anthrax that there isn't time for a T cell response, the more traditional cellular immune response," Janice Endsley, the lead author of a paper now online in the journal Infection and Immunity, said, according to Medical News Today. "NK cells can do a lot of the same things, and they can do them immediately."
Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch used test-tube experiments to document how NK cells successfully detected and killed cells that had been infected by anthrax. The cells destroyed the bacteria inside the cells along with the cells themselves. The next step will be to apply existing NK cell-augmentation techniques that have already been developed for cancer research to see if more numerous and active NK cells can protect mice from anthrax.
"We may not be able to completely control something just by modulating the immune response," Endsley said, according to Medical News Today. "But if we can complement antibiotic effects and improve the efficiency of antibiotics, that would be of value as well."