Breakthrough Made in Fight Against Multiple Sclerosis

Scientists discover how to stop cells from attacking healthy tissue.

Scientists discover how to stop cells from attacking healthy tissue.

Researchers may have unlocked the key to fighting autoimmune diseases by preventing the body’s immune system from destroying its own cells, according to the results of a recent study.

Published on September 3, 2014 in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Bristol found that cells can be converted from aggressive action into actually protecting against autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). The study finds that this new technique may be able to eliminate the need for immune suppressive drugs that carry debilitating side effects.

“Insight into the molecular basis of antigen-specific immunotherapy opens up exciting new opportunities to enhance the selectivity of the approach while providing valuable markers with which to measure effective treatment,” said study lead David Wraith in a press release. “These findings have important implications for the many patients suffering from autoimmune conditions that are currently difficult to treat.”

During the study, the researchers selectively targeted cells that lead to autoimmune disease by limiting their aggressive action against the body’s own tissues while converting them into cells that are capable of protecting against disease. This therapy has been previously used to treat allergies through a process known as allergic desensitization.

Only recently have scientists examined the use of this therapy against autoimmune diseases. As a result, the researchers from Bristol determined that the administration of fragments from proteins that are normally targeted for attack by cells can lead to correction of the autoimmune response through a gradual increase of the dosage for the injected antigenic fragment.

By examining the inside of immune cells to determine which genes and proteins are activated and deactivated by the treatment, changes were discovered in gene expression to explain how effective aggressor cells can be transformed into protector cells. The treatment is able to cause an individual’s immune system to ignore its own tissues while protecting against infection.

The researchers are hopeful that the widespread use of antigen-specific immunotherapy will be able to treat a wide range of autoimmune disorders, including MS, type 1 diabetes, Graves’ disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus.

“By specifically targeting the cells at fault, this immunotherapeutic approach avoids the need for the immune suppressive drugs associated with unacceptable side effects such as infections, development of tumors, and disruption of natural regulatory mechanisms,” the researchers wrote.