University of Maryland researchers have manipulated lymph nodes to “switch off” autoimmune attacks in diseases like multiple sclerosis while preserving healthy immune function. The treatment, which reversed paralysis in mouse models, could lead to better therapies for autoimmune disease.
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers in the brain. This disrupts communication from the brain to the spinal cord, which can lead to a range of symptoms, including the loss of motor function. There is no cure, but current treatments focus on suppressing the immune response. However, these can leave patients vulnerable to infection, the researchers said in a statement.
The Maryland team focused on “reprogramming” the lymph nodes that produce immune cells that attack myelin in people with MS. They injected biodegradable polymer particles containing “regulatory signals” directly into the lymph nodes. Once there, the particles slowly release immune signals, which give rise to immune cells that mature and migrate to the central nervous system to block the attack on myelin, the researchers said in the statement.
"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, in the statement. "The hope is that these cells can directly suppress inflammation without targeting healthy immune function." In mouse models, the team found that the myelin-specific treatment permanently reversed paralysis.
"Moving forward, our team is working to show the therapeutic effects result from repair and remyelination in the brain," said Christopher Jewell, a professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Bioengineering and a corresponding author, in the statement. "That represents a goal that is a critical criterion to improve on human MS therapies."
Researchers are working on other approaches to fight autoimmune disease, including the repurposing of cancer drugs prevent uveitis, an autoimmune condition where the immune response attacks the pigmented layer of the eye.