The function of immunity is to protect the body from pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, and tumor cells. The immune system employs a large variety of cells and cell signals to prevent and cure infections. All immune cells derive from precursors or stem cells in the bone marrow that multiply and differentiate to yield the diverse population of mature cells. White blood cells including neutrophils, eosinophils, and platelets are the first line of defense against infections. Neutrophils circulate in the blood and when they encounter a bacterium they engulf and degrade it. Eosinophils defend against parasites. Platelets are small cellular fragments that coalesce at sites of injury and cause blood clotting that prevents blood loss and seals wounds.
There are dozens of different immune cell types that communicate using dozens of different signal molecules referred to as cytokines or interleukins. Overall, the immune system is extremely complex. Indeed it shares mechanisms of gene regulation, signaling, and cell-cell communication with the nervous system.
One of Beljanski’s central research interests was learning how to restore normal populations of white blood cells in individuals whose immune systems are damaged. He focused on finding out how to stimulate bone marrow stem cells to divide and differentiate. This research led him to develop a preparation of small RNA fragments that could jump-start or prime the replication of DNA in bone marrow stem cells. This activity led to proliferation of the stem cells and renewed populations of white blood cells.
These RNA fragments have proved to be a breakthrough for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as one of the side effects of the treatment is loss of bone marrow function. For example, many of the drugs cause near complete loss of platelets putting the patients at critical risk of uncontrolled bleeding from even a minor wound. A recent clinical trial with advanced cancer patients demonstrated that when the RNA fragments were given with chemotherapy, platelets levels were restored to normal levels and the patients completed therapy without interruption. In addition to platelet production, the fragments stimulated production of other white blood cells, e.g. neutrophils.
Recent studies have indicated that the RNA fragments have a different activity suggestive of a link between the immune and nervous systems. A few doctors in Europe have given the RNA fragments to children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Children with ADD are often agitated and unable to focus their attention. These children showed improvements with the RNA fragments; they were calmer and performed better in their studies. Can the RNAs stimulate new brain cells or release of neurotransmitters or formation of new neural connections? Or do bone marrow stem cells migrate and differentiate into neuronal cells that repair a mental deficit in the brain?
Beljanski was also interested in inflammation, the body’s orchestrated and protective immune response against infection or injury. This response is normally associated with pain and swelling and is caused by the rush of immune cells to the site. As injury heals and the infection is overcome inflammation subsides. In some instances inflammation can start without injury or infection and continue without resolution. In this case inflammation becomes a disease that can damage organs in many parts of the body (joints, airways, kidneys, prostate). When this happens the goal is to find an agent that will reduce inflammation and prevent damage to affected organs.
Beljanski discovered that the Pao pereira extract he had characterized for its anti-cancer activity also has an anti-inflammatory activity. It suppresses the level of Interleukin-6, a signal molecule in the immune system that triggers inflammation. More recent research has demonstrated that the Pao extract exerts a direct effect on NFKappaB–a principal regulator of the inflammation response. By suppressing activation of NFKappaB the Pao pereira extract can inhibit downstream expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
The Pao pereira extract, by virtue of its anti-cancer activity, also provides an indirect benefit to the immune system of cancer patients. Natural killer cells are cytotoxic cells that respond to tumor formation and can kill cancer cells. By independently killing cancer cells the Pao extract can work together with NK cells and effectively lighten the burden on the immune system.