Many diseases can, directly or indirectly, be traced back to a disorder of the immune system. Anergy, the lack of active immune cells, opens the door to germs. Allergy, the hyperactivity of the immune system, leads to serious breakdowns, mainly, because the body attacks and destroys itself. The use of thymus peptides, enzymes and factors can, in both cases, contribute to the regulation of the immune system.
The word "thymus" is derived from the ancient Greek "thymos" and refers to ancient ideas dealing with the function of the thymus. According to them, the thymos was the seat of the soul, volition, temperament, courage and emotions. The easiest way to stimulate the thymus is to gently beat the chest slightly above the breastbone. Gorillas show this behavior before a fight. This way they strengthen their courage and self-confidence.
In centuries past the thymus was viewed as more or less superfluous. It was also believed to hinder the development of the sexual organs until puberty. It was not until 1905 that HAMMAR discovered new-born animals could not survive without a thymus gland. Studies done by KNIPPING (1924) came to the conclusion that the application of "fresh-pressed calves' thymus gland extract" lead to an increase in the lymphocytes and an increased resistance to infectious diseases. In 1962 MILLER discovered the true function of the thymus gland: a training center for pre-t-lymphocytes.
From 1953 until his death in 1989, SANDBERG regularly treated his patients with watery thymus extract (THX).
In 1975 thymus therapy using THX/THYMEX- L, introduced by PESIC, reached its peak in Germany.
According to modern thought, the thymus gland is the "brain" of the body's immune system. It consists of two lobi and is located behind the breastbone in front of the heart. The thymus of a newborn is about the size of the heart. It grows until the age of three and then maintains its weight of 30 to 40 g until puberty. As one advances in years, the thymus gland, part of the RES (reticulo-endothelial system), shrinks for reasons yet unknown. The glandular tissue converts into connective and fatty tissue. As a result of the reduced number of "trained" T-lymphocytes, a person's immune system weakens as they age. At the same time the serum level of the blood loses thymus peptides.
Although the thymus gland shrinks until one dies, it still functions at reduced levels. After this change the ceratinocytes - specialized skin cells - essentially take over further functions of the thymus.
In general, the job of the thymus and, in particular, the thymic hormones has only partly been explored. Today it is known that the T-lymphocytes are trained in the "School of Immune Defense" and that they can distinguish between self and non-self. After being schooled, three different types of cells leave the thymus: the helper cells, the killers cells and the T-suppressor cells. The helper cells contribute by building- at just the right moment- signaling and regulating substances such as lymphokines, which stimulate the killer cells and phagocytes. In addition, the helper cells stimulate the production of antibodies by the B-lymphocytes. The second group is trained to become killer cells. They are, for example, able to directly attack cancer cells and destroy them. The suppressor cells belong to the third and last group. These cells are necessary to control an immune reaction once initiated. Otherwise, the highly aggressive helper and killer cells would harm ones own body. The normal ratio between T-helper and T-suppressor cells is 1.5 to 1. If this ratio increases (4 to 1) or decreases (1 to 2), then there is an immune system disorder.
Up to now, more than twenty thymus peptides have been isolated from the whole-thymus extract. Five of them have already been investigated in depth.
- Thymosin α1 increases the interferon, the lymphokine, and the MIF (migration inhibitory factor) production. It also increases immunity against viruses, fungi, and tumors.
- Thymosin β4 stimulates the release of LH-RH ( luteinising hormone - releasing hormone) and LH and induces the expression of receptors, in vitro and in vivo, in the bone marrow of healthy mice and in mice without a thymus, as well as in vivo in the thymocytes of mice with a depressed immune system.
- Prothymosin α is ten times more active than Thymosin α1. Isolation in large quantities was not successful until some years ago in Germany. This break through made additional research possible. Prothymosin α has a strong immune regulating effect on the T-lymphocytes.
- Thymic Humoral Factor (THF) restores the splenocytes' in-vivo ability of new-born thymectomy donors to induce a graft vs. host reaction and intensifies the response of normal splenocytes to PHA- and Con-A-stimulation.
- Thymopoietin helps the intrathymic lymphocytes to differentiate amongst the bone marrow cells.
Singular thymus factors influence the various maturity levels in lymphocytes. Thymus peptides induce the expression of specific T-lymphocyte-receptors on immature precursor lymphocytes, as well as the differentiation of the T-lymphocytes in the thymus. During the therapeutic application of thymus preparations, the short-chained thymus peptides regulate the lymphocytes' sub-population. In addition the new formation of pre-thymocytes in the bone marrow is induced.
Nowadays, different thymus extracts are available for the patient. For instance THYMEX-L, which is licensed as a remedy in Sweden under the name ENZYTHYM, is permitted in Germany and other European countries for clinical examinations. With the authorization of the Canadian drug authorities- Health Canada, some clinical examinations are being done with THYMEX-L and TFX-THYMOMODULIN in Canada. THYMEX-L has been approved for export, in small amounts, to the USA from Germany.
The number of clinical examinations that have been done with thymus peptides and the whole-thymus extract is numerous. Through out the years three central areas of indication have taken shape because of the dominant regulatory ability of the thymus peptides: post-operative tumor care (lung, breast, stomach, intestines, kidney, bladder and prostate), chronic recurrent infections, and rheumatism.
Patients with tumors usually have a disordered, suppressed immune system. On the one hand the body's immune system is destroyed by the malignant cells and on the other hand by radical therapy - radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. If you take clinical observations which show the interdependence between the progress of the tumor invasion and the strength of the immune response into consideration, the existence of an immunological tumor-host interaction is highly probable. In 1970 BURNET had already defined the "Hypothesis of Immune Surveillance": the immunity, procured by the T-cells, plays a major part in the fight against degenerate cells.
While a primary or secondary immune insufficiency must be assumed in patients with tumors, patients with rheumatoid arthritis suffer from hyperactivity of the immune system. A still unknown noxa produces an inflammatory reaction in the joint capsule, which is then followed by an activation of the cellular and humoral immune systems. The B-lymphocytes produce antibodies against the tissue of ones own body. The resulting immunity complexes are phagocytised by the granulocytes. This leads to a release of lysosomal enzymes and inflammation factors - the vicious circle runs its course. In such a case, treatment with thymus peptides is appropriate. Thymic hormones and thymic factors regulate the cellular and humoral immunological response, and if not hindering the self-destruction, then at least greatly decelerating it.
The weakened immune system is an ideal "culture medium" for opportunistic infections, which, not infrequently, take a chronic, often recurrent, course. Methods of treatment which only attack the pathogens, only have a symptomatic effect. They frequently have the characteristic of weakening the immune system, so that the next infection is almost guaranteed.
A study done by PESIC and LAWNICZAK, entitled "Immune correction with the help of thymus extracts under negative influence of some antibiotics upon the phagocyte", clearly reveals that the application of THYMEX-L after treatment with antibiotics or cytostatic agents, leads to a correction in the level of enzymes.
According to clinical examinations the regular application of thymus reduces the susceptibility to infection. Moreover a visible improvement in the general condition of most patients can be detected. The treatment with thymus extracts in cases of chronic, recurrent infections must be regarded as a causal therapy. It leads to a fundamental restoration of the immune system.