The autoimmune diseases cause untold pain, misery, and hardship -- not to mention expense -- throughout the human lifespan. When the person's immune system attacks other cells in his own body, treatment options are generally limited and sub-optimal. But now, researchers at the University of Alberta, Calgary, have devised a treatment (and prevention) for Type 1 diabetes which may lead to a revolution in the treatment and prevention of autoimmune diseases -- such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and many more.
Researchers from the University of Calgary in Alberta, led by Dr. Pere Santamaria, were looking to halt the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes, but do so without damaging the immune cells that control and regulate the immune system or that protect against infections. So the team focused on developing a highly targeted antigen-specific immunotherapy - one, they explained, that could address the "internal tug-of-war between aggressive T cells that want to cause the disease and weaker T cells that want to stop it from occurring."
The researchers produced a unique vaccine comprising nanoparticles, which are thousands of times smaller than the size of a cell. They coated the particles with type 1 diabetes-relevant peptides, or protein fragments, that were bound to certain molecules that play a critical role in immune cell communication (called MHC molecules).
In the mice, the nanoparticle treatment expanded a type of regulatory T cell -- these cells ultimately suppressed the aggressive immune attack that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. The researchers noted that the expanded cells shut down the immune attack by preventing autoreactive immune cells from being stimulated, either by the peptide contained in the vaccine or by any other diabetes autoantigen presented simultaneously by antigen-presenting cells. With the immune response that causes diabetes blocked, mice with type 1 diabetes regained normal blood sugars. And those that would have contracted the disease didn't.
The study also provides important - and promising - insight into the ability to translate these findings into therapeutics for people: Nanoparticles that were coated with molecules specific to human type 1 diabetes were able to restore normal blood sugar levels in a humanized mouse model of diabetes (that is, a mouse that has been genetically altered to biologically simulate type 1 diabetes in people). _ jdrf
Science is slowly but surely decoding the complex signaling involved in life, disease, and ageing. With the better tools being provided by advanced genetics, nanotechnology, immunology, and information technology, it is easy to feel that there are no secrets of life that will not be unwrapped and decoded sooner or later.