A talk with Prof. Jane Józefczuk about thymoma in children, among other things….
A professor of medicine, paediatric specialist, children’s gastroenterologist.
Head of the Paediatric Ward with its Paediatric Cardiology Department at the Duch Święty Specialist Hospital in Sandomierz.
What is the role of the thymus in our body?
The thymus is an organ, a gland located in the upper part of the chest, which is vital for life, although often ignored and unappreciated. It is a key regulator of our immunity, which supervises and stimulates the entire immune system from birth until the end of our life.
The job of the thymus is to identify and eliminate pathogenic antigens.
How can you most vividly describe the function of the thymus in the immune system?
The thymus can be compared to a computer and IT centre. This centre sends emails containing vital information to the cells of the immune system, including to the lymphocytes, differentiating between T and B lymphocytes, macrophages and other cells responsible for our immunity.
These cells receive detailed instructions of what to do – where their intervention is needed, and how they are to fight threats. The thymus mobilises its troops into action, e.g. T lymphocytes to seek and destroy sick cells and to eliminate exacerbations.
Like in a computer game, some of these warriors kill threats such as viruses and bacteria, and others like macrophages are involved in mopping up operations, swallowing and digesting intruders.
They use various weapons, some fight hand-to-hand, others shoot at the threats.
When the thymus is weakened, it is as if the computer has lost power. Then it becomes necessary to supplement it with thymic preparations which increase the power of the command centre.
The thymus also influences stem cells. We all have these, they account for 0.2% of all our cells. It is thanks to the thymus that these cells differentiate depending on the requirements of our body at a given moment.
Pluripotential cells become multipotential, and these are the ones which are dedicated to defence, depending on the threats we face. Using the computer game metaphor, we can say that they receive the right weapon to combat a specific virus or infection.
There are two types of immunity – cell immunity and humoral immunity – and the cells which carry out their tasks must have clear instructions, orders how and where to act. Hence the underappreciated role of thymosin and other thymic peptides which carry this information. The thymus produces these to take our warriors to higher and higher levels in this extraordinary battle, which is constantly being waged inside our bodies.
What causes the thymus to be weakened, not to function, not to protect us properly?
We live in a world full of threats. Not just air, water, food and the preservatives this contains. Nobody determines new chemical compounds, plastics, antigens connected with construction. These threats accompany us every day, but nobody examines the effects they have on our health. Not now, and as time goes on we still don’t know how huge an influence they have on our health.
There is one more reason that we don’t consider – the fact that live in huge concentrations. There have never been so many of us per square kilometre. So this also means massive colonies of antigens around us, also in enormous concentrations.
Dioxins, for example, tiny and highly toxic particles penetrating our bodies from the air. There are only two laboratories in Poland which determine their levels in the environment, but none of us tests their concentrations every day. This means we’re unaware of what could be dangerous for us, or weaken our immunity.
Add to this permanent stress and the ageing of the body. Involution, the intrinsic atrophy of the thymus, begins around the age of 40, or even earlier when the environment has a very detrimental effect on us. The we become naturally more vulnerable to infections and lifestyle diseases.
What is the proper level of the thymic peptide thymosin in our body?
“The proper level of this thymic hormone, namely thymosin alpha-1, is around 10 ng /ml
Its amount is determined from blood serum at a certified laboratory.
A low level indicates that the immune system is not operating properly.
Until the level is correct, our immunity will be disturbed and we should take preparations containing thymosin. Protecting ourselves at the same time against what is weakening and destroying our thymus,”
We still know little about the influence of the thymus on immunity and the effects of its functioning.
It is true that we still go by observations to a great extent, research is still being carried out to reveal the influence of this extraordinary gland on our bodies. Thymosin, a short-chained protein made from 28 amino acids, was discovered by Goldstein in the 1960s, then the medical world forgot about it.
Until now, the thymus had been considered unnecessary and attempts were made to reduce it, e.g. by using X-rays or even surgically removing t, particularly in cases where it was overgrown. Now we know that when the thymus expands, this means it is particularly needed for some reason, that there has been an increased demand for greater power for the immunological command centre.
Unfortunately, the thymus stops growing with age, and starts to disappear. However, we can stimulate it functioning and supplement the deficiencies of thymosin, for example, with preparations containing thymus extract.
What happens when the thymus is damaged or vanishes?
During cardiosurgery in children, a large part of the thymus must be cut out in order to reach the heart. Luckily, a child’s thymus is still capable of regenerating, so it grows back in children, but not in adults. A thymus which has been removed can be multiplied in the laboratory and used for transplantation, particularly as the thymus is a very easy organ to transplant. So there is no need to take medicines to prevent transplants being rejected. The thymus, this strongman, this immunological supervisor, is silent, invisible to the recipient’s immune system.
Professor Bogdan Woźniewicz successfully grows thymus cells for transplanting, he has carried out dozens of such transplants in very serious diseases, but this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed. Similar tests are being conducted at Edinburgh University in Scotland, but on a smaller scale. This is all very promising, but it’s still in the future.
Professor Woźniewicz has also grown cells from parathyroids, which are often damaged during operations. In these cases, patients must take anti-tetany drugs for the rest of their lives. Practically everybody who needs one has already had a parathyroid transplant paid for by the National Health Fund.
Actions like these give hope that patients’ conditions can improve and their treatment can work better.
Who would you recommend to take thymic supplements?
Above all those who often suffer from infections, and also patients with autoimmunity diseases.
By far the most visits to paediatric surgeries (60% in autumn and winter) are respiratory system infections. As a paediatrician, I know that small children can get sick over a dozen times a year.
Developmental disorders are also a reason for children to take thymus supplements. My research and experience indicate that children with Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and especially autism have major deficiencies.
The last Nobel Prize made us aware of the need to change our approach to many chronic illnesses, indicating the necessity to strengthen, to unblock the proper immunological response. We have to be aware of the enormous role played by our immune system, and of how we should support and protect it.
The thymus as the “immune command centre” carries out this mission by default.
This is also borne out by the good therapeutic effects obtained by Prof. Woźniewicz after thymus transplants in patients in extremely serious states.
You’ve carried out research concerning therapy for children with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. What were the observations and conclusions?
“In 2016, we conducted research for the Scientific Research Committee on children with delayed psychomotor development.
alongside children with Down’s syndrome, we tested several hundred children with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism.
Five Polish medical institutions took part in the research. The main point of the research was to test children in their everyday environment. In order to carry out all the necessary developmental therapies.
We subjected the children to thorough testing and observations. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to test chemical poisoning and its consequences, but while researching it during this programme we took samples from the children of serum, among other things, to determine the thymosin level.
It turned out that practically all the children tested had enormous deficits! In comparison with the normal thymosin level of 10ng/ml, the children had an average of 2ng/ml . The largest deficit was found in the children with autism. This gave us something to think about, and we started to give the group of around 60 autistic children supplements of thymic peptides in tablet form. After 3 months, we again determined the thymosin level, and in the children who had taken the supplements it had increased to an average of over 6 ng/ml. The initial results are encouraging.
We consider a result above 6 ng/ml as satisfactory in this case, although we’re still pioneers here with a lot of work ahead of us.
In this project, we collaborated with the Military University of Technology in the field of assessing the macro- and microelements in hair. Apart from minor magnesium deficiencies, we didn’t uncover a lack of anything which could form grounds for any extraordinary supplementation. I know that charlatans of all types recommend children on the autistic spectrum in particular to test hair on various exotic islands and then they try to force unnecessary supplements on them. This is absolutely pointless from the point of view of medicine and our research.
At the same time hair tests didn’t indicate high levels of lead or cadmium, so the conclusion is that autism shouldn’t be associated with any poisoning with those elements.
In the meantime we’ve started a project to assess any gluten intolerance which there may be in children on the autistic spectrum.
The results indicate that 1/3 autistic children have an increased level of anti-gliadin antibodies, and those who have a high amount of those antibodies also test positive for the presence of transglutaminase 6, the so-called brain enzyme. They all also have a major thymosin deficiency. Thanks to recent reports by the major scientific periodicals, we know that the blood-brain barrier is not as impenetrable as it seemed for so many years. Gluten passes via the lymphatic vessels into the undamaged mucous membranes of the intestines, and it can pass through the lymphatic vessels to the brain and cause an inflammatory reaction. This may contribute to the pathomechanism of autism. And all this is with a very low level of thymosin.
This would be another indication for supplementing with thymus preparations. This is the direction my research will follow over the coming years. I hope we will find an answer to the question of whether there is a scientific basis for applying a gluten-free diet in children with autism. And in answering this fundamental question, we will look in depth at the role of the thymus in the etiopathogenesis of chronic diseases, with particular regard to autism.
They say the intestines are the second brain. How do they affect our immunity?
A whole 70% of lymphatic tissue is found in the digestive tract. This shows just how enormous a role it plays in our immunity. The digestive tract is home to millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses. We are inside a kind of ecosystem, we are the most important, but we live in surroundings which have a massive effect on our condition.
These commensals help us to digest, to absorb and in addition they send vast amounts of information which is important from an immunological point of view. There are several kilograms of these various bacteria, the living components inhabiting our digestive tract. The 21st century will be a time of further research into the digestive tract, it’s a huge organ with a surface area of around 220 square centimetres. There are 3,300,000 genes in the bacteria cells inhabiting our digestive tract, while the human genome consists of a mere 30-35,000 genes.
The number of bacteria cells living in our digestive tract is ten times greater than all the cells which make up the human body. Shocking information, and a great field for scientific research. And if we add to this countless hormones released in the digestive tract, then that’s enough science to make you dizzy. As well as this, without the participation of the bacteria in the digestive tract, we would be unable to digest and absorb even a pear, orange or potato. The enzymes which digest these are produced by bacteria living in our digestive tract.
What are the most important messages concerning protection of the thymus, and therefore the key to keeping our immunity working efficiently?
There’s an acronym of the key actions which affect our immune system.
Sleep – a minimum of 8 hours a day (you can catch up at the weekend)
Handle stress – let’s reduce stress!
Interaction – contact with other people
Excercise – physical exertion
Learn – all the time!
Diet – balanced and healthy
This creates a SHIELD. These actions are the best protection, and what’s more we affect them.