New Hope in the Fight Against Multiple Sclerosis
Researchers from the University of Maryland Fischell Department of Bioengineering and the University of Maryland School of Medicine report a new way to “turn off” the harmful immune attack that occurs during autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), while keeping healthy functions of the immune system intact.
A release from the university quotes said BIOE Assistant Professor Christopher Jewell, corresponding author on the report, as saying, “Our lab is combining immunology and nanotechnology to reprogram how the immune system responds to self-cells in the brain that are mistakenly attacked during MS. The finding, conducted in cells and pre-clinical animal models of MS, could lead to new approaches for reversing paralysis in MS, or better therapies for other autoimmune diseases.”
The group’s findings were published September 13th 2016 in the journal Cell Reports. Collaborator Jonathan Bromberg, MD, PhD, a professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said, “The studies show it is possible to treat and cure inflammatory disease with a single dose of therapeutics loaded in biodegradable polymers targeted directly to lymph nodes – the tissues that coordinate immune function in the body.”
In MS, the immune system incorrectly recognizes myelin that insulates and protects nerves fibers in the brain. Immune cells enter the brain and attack, leading to slow loss of motor function and other complications. Current therapies for MS work by decreasing the activity of the immune system; but, they do so in a broadly-suppressive way that often leaves patients vulnerable to infection. There are also no cures for MS, type 1 diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases.
“The goal of our work – and that of others in the field – is to expand cells that are both myelin-specific and regulatory in nature,” said Lisa Tostanoski, first author on the paper. “The hope is that these cells can directly suppress inflammation without targeting healthy immune function.”
Jewell’s team is working to reprogram the function of lymph nodes: instead of generating inflammatory cells that attack myelin, the lymph nodes are “instructed” to promote regulatory immune cells that control the attack against myelin. To carry out the “reprogramming,” degradable polymer particles that incorporate regulatory signals are delivered to lymph nodes using a unique intra-lymph node injection technique. Once in thelymph nodes, these particles slowly release immune signals to promote regulatory immune cells that mature and migrate to the central nervous system to suppress the attack against myelin.