Anyone who has ever taken a high school level health class has been introduced to leukocytes, albeit likely under the less scientific name “white blood cells.” In recent years, leukocyte research has made some significant advances, yielding many important findings for the medical world, from cancer to regenerative therapy. Here are four of the most important benefits of leukocyte research in healthcare everyone should be aware of.
Improving Prognosis for Cancer Patients
One of the many side effects of common cancer treatments is a reduced leukocyte count, resulting in suppressed immune responses. This leaves cancer patients vulnerable to infections that their bodies could otherwise fight off with relative ease. Thanks to recent research, though, several drug candidates are emerging that could raise white cell counts in cancer patients, making them less susceptible to infections during the course of their treatment.
Treating Overproduction of White Blood Cells
Just as a patient can have too few white blood cells, an overly high leukocyte count results in its own set of problems. Patients suffering hyperleukocytosis, an overproduction of white blood cells, are frequently treated via a process known as leukapheresis, in which white blood cells are mechanically separated removed from a patient’s blood. A slightly different version of the same process is used to produce commercial leukopaks for laboratory research applications.
Improving Understanding of Infant Immunology
Because infants are particularly vulnerable to a host of medical conditions, infant immunologyv has been an extremely important field of study in the gradual reduction of infant mortality rates over the past century. Leukocyte research has played a key role in helping scientists and medical professionals to understand the mechanisms of infant immunity, as it has been discovered that maternal leukocytes confer initial immune support to infants.
Supporting Human Aging and Longevity Research
Researchers and clinicians alike have an understandable interest in the progression of age-related diseases and aging as a physiological process. Recently, researchers have identified leukocyte telomere length as a biomarker of the aging process, allowing them to gain a greater understanding of how aging actually works in the human body and how various conditions may correlate with it. This kind of research may one day be vital to the development of therapies to fight age-related diseases and ease the normal decline of physical functions associated with advancing age.
These are just some of the hundreds of healthcare applications in which leukocyte research has played an important role. As research continues, it is likely that leukocytes will prove important to even greater understanding of human immunology and to the development of the next generation of advanced therapies and pharmaceuticals.