Switch off multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes with immune system retraining

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According to scientists, it is possible to ‘switch off’ autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, with immune system retraining.

These autoimmune diseases are crippling because they trick the body into self-attack mode.

However, a Bristol University team has indicated that the immune system can be taught to stop treating harmless proteins as lethal invaders.

In MS, the immune system is responsible for attacking the myelin sheathing which acts as protection for nerve fibres. The nerves carry messages to and from the brain and when this process is disrupted, it causes problems, such as fatigue, impaired vision and loss of mobility.

By amalgamating the proteins from the sheaths in a laboratory setting, and then injecting these into the blood stream using increased dosages, the body once again learns to trust it.

This therapy technique has been used for allergies, but scientists have only recently realised that it could be used elsewhere.

The team at Bristol University have stated that this discovery is set to improve the lives of millions suffering from various diseases. The first author of the study, Dr Bronwen Burton, said the immune system operates by recognising antigens which are responsible for infections. In those who suffer with allergies, the immune system responds to nuts or pollen because it thinks it will harm the body. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system regards protein fragment in tissues as foreign bodies and commences the attack against them.

The team have discovered that by synthesising the proteins into a soluble form, they can desensitise the immune system by feeding in an escalated dosage. This has brought hope that this discovery may lead to the development of immunotherapies for particular conditions, based on the antigen that the person’s body is reacting to.

Multiple sclerosis affects about 100000 people in Britain and about 2.5 million people globally.

Professor David Wraith, based at the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Bristol University, said the study revealed many exciting opportunities. He said the results of the research are important for those patients suffering from autoimmune diseases that are very difficult to treat.

The team stated that the main goal is to bring about self-tolerance. This is when a person’s immune system ignores its tissues, but remains armed and ready to protect the body against infections.

Autoimmune diseases are currently treated with drugs that cause suppression of the immune system. However, these drugs are linked to side effects including the disruption of natural regulatory mechanisms and tumour development.

The treatment is in the process of clinical development through a company named Apitope, which is part of the university. It is being tested on humans.

Image Credit: NIAID

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