Scientists Hunt for Next-Generation Multiple Sclerosis Therapies

Rational design approaches could transform how multiple sclerosis is treated.

Utilizing quantum dots, scientists are dissecting critical design features to develop next-generation nanotherapeutics geared towards treating multiple sclerosis (MS).

In a study published in Advanced Functional Materials, investigators sought to develop a precision system that uses quantum dots to control the number of self-antigens displayed on each dot.

“Engineering technologies aimed at autoimmune disease could pave the way for new treatment options,” Jewell said. “However, in order to develop next-generation therapies, bioengineers need basic insight into the specific features that are critical to therapy design. Generally, because the human body is so complex, discoveries in medicine have relied on trial-and-error. But, by using rational design approaches—–understanding what each piece of a potential therapeutic controls––we have the potential to transform how disease is tackled. Toward this goal, our team used quantum dots to dissect some of the important design features for new nanotherapeutics aimed at MS.”

Quantum dots are semiconductor particles—–only several nanometers in size––commonly used in nanotechnology. The particles piqued the interest of investigators because of their small size, which allows them to efficiently drain through lymphatic vessels and accumulate in the lymph nodes.

Furthermore, quantum dots are fluorescent, which allows real-time tracking in cells and animals.

The investigators hypothesized that by utilizing quantum dots displaying defined densities of myelin peptides, they could identity how the density alters the processing and trafficking of the peptide, and as a result, promote regulatory T cells.

“One of our exciting findings is that tolerance and elimination of paralysis in a preclinical mouse model was much better when peptides were displayed on many quantum dots at a low density of 25 per dot, instead of fewer quantum dots displaying the same number of peptides but at a high density of 65 per dot,” said principal investigator Christopher Jewell. “Developing specific knowledge or design guidelines such as these might enable more selective—–and effective––therapies to treat MS and other diseases.”

MS is an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. An estimated 2.3 million individuals worldwide are living with MS.

“Symptoms can vary greatly from patient to patient, but can produce extreme fatigue, muscle weakness and spasticity, and significant pain,” said lead author Krystina Hess. “There is currently no cure for MS, and traditional therapies broadly decrease the activity of the immune system at a cost that leaves MS patients vulnerable to infection.”