Scientists have developed a way of modifying a microscopic
particle which could offer a new approach to tackling major diseases
such as multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, asthma and food
Instead of taking a drug that suppresses the entire immune system, making sufferers more susceptible to infections and cancer, patients may in future be given a nanoparticle treatment which can selectively inhibit the part of the immune system responsible for their disease.
When primed, the nanoparticle can trick the immune system into halting its attack on the body which is a characteristic of these diseases.
Researchers from Northwestern University in the US, funded by the National Institutes for Health, used the technique to block the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath that surrounds the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms ranging from numbness to paralysis.
They injected nanoparticles attached to myelin antigens - proteins to stop the immune system from recognising the myelin sheath as an alien invader - which reset the immune system to normal and halted the attack.
Stephen Miller , a professor of microbiology and one of the authors of the study, published in Nature Biotechnology, said: "This is a highly significant breakthrough. The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that is delivered."
The researchers have shown in their lab that the treatment can also induce protection against other auto-immune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and certain food allergies. The technique may also be used by transplant patients to reduce the problem of rejection, by training the immune system not to perceive the transplanted organ as alien.
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