Dr Ken Duffywww.hamilton.ie/ken_duffy/

An Irish mathematician has made a major advancement in the understanding of the immune system, a development that could help with the treatment of Crohn’s, coeliac disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Maynooth University based scientist Dr Ken Duffy is one of a team of international scientists who have made the breakthrough cracking codes related to the body’s immune system.

The Irish Examiner reports that the research, published in prestigious US journal Science, turns the existing rules on white blood cell behaviour and the body’s defences on their head.

“The science community will be surprised. This is very much a different way of viewing things. It’s not the standard accepted paradigm,” said Dr Duffy.

The Irish Examiner reports that the key discovery is that cells react randomly rather than having a pre-determined uniform response to disease.

Dr Duffy told the paper that he has been working on the research since linking up with Professor Philip Hodgkin from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.

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Their aim is to help design new therapies for auto-immune diseases and improved vaccines and to explore how immune systems can resist bacteria and viruses. 

The report states that any further developments on cell reaction could also see studies into treatment for common allergies, such as hay fever, and debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The breakthrough is seen as being of major importance.

Using genetically modified mice, the scientists watched B cells that were exposed to a virus or bacteria - even though all the cells saw the same external cues, no two behaved identically. 

A probability expert, Dr Duffy said: “The conundrum is that even though each cell behaves randomly, for given external cues the overall immune response is highly predictable.”