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Together, they have identified a new type of cell in the immune system that can specifically target lipids, or fats, found in the cell walls of bacteria, including Mycobacteria.
The new cell type, a kind of white blood cell, belongs to a family of T-cells that play a critical role in protection against infectious disease.
While the immune system is known to focus on proteins from viruses and bacteria, some T-cells in the immune system (known as NKT cells) can recognise lipid-based molecules. As such, there is great enthusiasm for the potential of these lipid-sensing T-cells in the development of novel vaccines.