News / Health

Experimental Therapy Developed to Protect Against Autoimmune Disease

Aggressor cells, which have the potential to cause autoimmunity, are targeted by treatment, causing conversion of these cells to protector cells. Gene expression changes gradually at each stage of treatment, as illustrated by the color changes in this series of heat maps. (Credit: University of Bristol/Dr. Bronwen Burton
Aggressor cells, which have the potential to cause autoimmunity, are targeted by treatment, causing conversion of these cells to protector cells. Gene expression changes gradually at each stage of treatment, as illustrated by the color changes in this series of heat maps. (Credit: University of Bristol/Dr. Bronwen Burton
Jessica Berman

Using allergy treatment as a model, researchers have figured out a way to switch off autoimmune diseases in which the body attacks its own tissues, and making the immune system protective against disease.  The therapy could represent a revolution in the treatment of autoimmune ailments such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.  

The immune system protects against illness by recognizing and attacking harmful microbial invaders, including bacteria, viruses and parasites.  But in people with an autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, lupus or Grave’s disease, those protective immune system cells mistakenly attack the body’s own tissues.

Now, researchers at the University of Bristol in Britain have figured out a way to switch off that attack in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.  They exposed the animals to the antigens, or the proteins that are attacked in MS.  That not only quieted the immune system, but turned it into a protective mechanism against disease.

The therapy is similar to the treatment for environmental allergies.  Patients are injected with small amounts of the harmless pollen or dust antigens that make the body overreact, causing sneezing, rashes and itchy, watery eyes. 

Eventually the immune system becomes desensitized to the irritant, and retrained not to produce an allergic reaction.

“We restore sort of a state of immune normality in these people," said researcher Bronwyn Burton, who works with the MS study.  "So, hopefully they will still be able to respond to infections, they are able to fight off infections very readily, but they will not be able to mount these devastating autoimmune responses anymore."

Multiple sclerosis causes paralysis when the body attacks the protective outer coating of nerve cells, called myelin, thwarting motor impulses from the brain that control movement.

Researchers gave a gradually escalating dose of myelin antigens to the mice with MS-like disease, gradually switching off the misdirected immune attack.  The work is described in the journal Nature Communications.

A biotech company is conducting clinical trials of the therapy in MS patients.  There are an estimated 2.5 million people around the world with multiple sclerosis.

Burton agrees the immunotherapy could represent a sea-change in the way people with MS and other autoimmune diseases are treated.

“So, it is a really promising treatment approach for the future, although at the moment for the treatment of autoimmune disease still in fairly early phases of development," said Burton.

University of Bristol researchers believe they could use the same approach to treat other autoimmune diseases, including juvenile diabetes, and are now trying to identify harmless proteins that come under attack in those diseases, so they can develop therapies.  

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs