Researchers at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have created a novel vaccine that has demonstrated in a lab setting that it can completely reverse autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes without impairing the rest of the immune system.
The immune system of the body guards it against disease and infection. However, immune system dysfunction causes it to mistakenly target healthy cells, tissues, and organs for attack.
These attacks, also known as autoimmune illnesses, can affect any body region, impairing essential functions and potentially becoming lethal. More than 80 autoimmune disorders are known to science. While some are common and easy to identify, such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, others are uncommon and challenging.
Patients with unusual autoimmune illnesses may endure years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. The majority of these illnesses are incurable. Some people need ongoing therapy to reduce their symptoms.
Uncovering Inverse Vaccine'
Immunosuppressants, a medication that inhibits or dampens the immune system, are frequently used to treat autoimmune illnesses, although they have drawbacks.
These treatments can be very effective, but you're also blocking the immune responses necessary to fight off infections and so there are a lot of side effects.-Lead author, Jeffrey Hubbell
He says using an inverse vaccination to treat patients would be far more targeted and likely cause fewer adverse effects.
A so-called "inverse vaccine" would erase the immune system's memory of a molecule it would normally target for assault. For instance, it would prevent immune cells from attacking myelin, the shield surrounding nerve cells, in multiple sclerosis. In a recent study, scientists developed such a vaccination using a system already in the body.
Peripheral immunological tolerance is the process through which the immune system remains typically quiet whenever a cell naturally dies. This is due to the liver's marking of a sugar molecule known as N-acetylgalactosamine, also known as, pGal, with a "do not destroy" sign as it breaks down cells.
According to Hubbell, the immune system can be taught to tolerate any molecule by attaching it to pGal.
The study team had previously put this theory to the test. It demonstrated that it could prevent autoimmunity, but their most recent work implies that it might treat illnesses that already started.
Per the scientists, the most intriguing aspect of this research is that it has demonstrated that disorders like multiple sclerosis may be treated after there has already been persistent inflammation, which is more practical in a real-world setting.
Research will need to go beyond mouse models to make this a reality. Using a similar approach, phase I clinical safety trials have previously been conducted to treat celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to fight itself after ingesting gluten. Trials for multiple sclerosis are also now being planned.
Hubbell concludes: "There are no clinically approved inverse vaccines yet, but we're incredibly excited about moving this technology forward."
- Nature Biomedical Engineering. Synthetically glycosylated antigens for the antigen-specific suppression of established immune responses.
- Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at University of Chicago. “Inverse vaccine” shows potential to treat multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Autoimmune Diseases.