Scientists have recently developed innovative technology that could not only help patients with multiple sclerosis, but those with autoimmune diseases ranging from type-1 diabetes to psoriasis, and perhaps even food allergies, the National Institutes of Health announced today in a news release.
In a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), Drs. Stephen Miller and Lonnie Shea at Northwestern University, Evanston, teamed up with researchers funded by the NIH to come up with a novel way of repressing only the part of the immune system that causes autoimmune disorders while leaving the rest of the system intact.
The new research takes advantage of a natural safeguard employed by the body to prevent auto reactive T-cells, which recognize and have the potential to attack the body’s healthy tissues, from becoming active. The results of the research are published in the Nov. 18 online edition of Nature Biotechnology.
“We’re trying to do something that interfaces with the natural processes in the body,” said Shea. “The body has natural mechanisms for shutting down an immune response that is inappropriate, and we’re really just looking to tap into that.”
And tap into it they did, at least in mice, but their immune systems are very similar to humans.
“If this works, it is going to be absolutely fantastic,” said Bill Heetderks, who directs outside research at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, part of the National Institutes of Health, which helped pay for the research. “Even if it doesn’t work, it’s going to be another step down the road.”
In autoimmune disease, the body’s immune cells mistakenly attack and destroy healthy tissue. The primary treatment for autoimmune disease has been to suppress the immune system, which can put patients at risk for infections and cancer. The new treatment, however, re-educates the immune cells so they stop the attacks.
The approach uses nanoparticles, which are tiny balls made of the same material used to make surgical sutures that dissolve harmlessly in the body. They’re attached to little bits of the protein that the immune cells are attacking, as reported by researchers in Sunday’s issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The research team is now hoping to begin phase I clinical trials using this new technology. The material that makes up the particles has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Miller believes that the proven safety record of these particles, along with their ability to be easily produced using good manufacturing practices, will make it easier to translate their discovery into clinical use.
“I think we’ve come up with a very potent way to induce tolerance that can be easily translated into clinical practice. We’re doing everything we can now to take this forward,” said Miller.
In addition to its potential use for the treatment of MS, the researchers have shown in the lab that their therapy can induce tolerance for other autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes and specific food allergies. They also speculate that transplant patients could benefit from the treatment which has the potential to retract the body’s natural immune response against a transplanted organ. Dr. Christine Kelley, NIBIB director of the Division of Science and Technology, points to the unique collaboration between scientists and engineers that made this advance a reality.
“This discovery is testimony to the importance of multidisciplinary research efforts in healthcare,” said Kelley. “The combined expertise of these immunology and bioengineering researchers has resulted in a valuable new perspective on treating autoimmune disorders.”