Northwestern U nanoparticle hits MS in mice

A nanoparticle, of all things, helped successfully treat relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in mice--all without suppressing the immune system as other MS treatments do. Researchers at Northwestern University developed the approach, and the journal Nature Biotechnology highlights their work in detail.

The approach offers a potentially inexpensive and efficient way to treat MS--a disease believed to erupt when the immune system destroys the myelin membrane insulating cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves--the researchers explain. Patients suffering from MS deal with everything from numb limbs to blindness or paralysis once the damage is done.

To get things started, the research team used a biodegradable nanoparticle built with a polymer known as PLG, which is typically an ingredient for surgical sutures. Next, they attached the nanoparticles to myelin antigens and then injected them intravenously into mice with a disease resembling MS. By doing so, they reset the mouse immune systems to normal, stopping them from attacking the myelin.

Scientists are so bullish about the new treatment concept that they believe that by varying the antigen used but keeping the nanoparticle the same, it can address a variety of immune system-related diseases, including Type 1 diabetes and allergies. They also tout their approach as superior to a similar MS treatment now in a Phase I/II clinical trial. The treatment has shown promise by using a patient's own white blood cells to deliver the antigen, but the Northwestern University team says the concept won't have as much traction as its approach because it is both costly and labor-intensive.

There are a lot of pluses here to consider, the least of which is that the nanoparticle, developed by Northwestern's Lonnie Shea, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, clearly shows long-term promise as a treatment for autoimmune system-related diseases. It will be quite some time, though, before this reaches human testing, and there are no guarantees that human trials will generate the same results. Tests are continuing, however, and scientists are exploring next whether the nanoparticle can be used in Type 1 diabetes and asthma.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract
- check out NBC News' take