Researchers have discovered a groundbreaking new way to treat multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and even food allergies.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body mistakenly attacks and destroys its own healthy cells. The main treatment right now is to suppress the immune system, which can lead to a host of other problems including increased vulnerability to infections.
In the new treatment (so far tested only on mice), the immune cells are “reeducated” so they don’t attack healthy cells. This is done by using nanoparticles attached to little bits of the protein that the immune cells are attacking. Scientists use PLG (a dissolvable plastic used in sutures) inserted into the bloodstream. This tiny bits of dissolvable material get carried to the spleen, where they basically show the immune cells how not to attack the healthy cells.
Sound confusing? It is, a little bit. But it’s a very promising development. Bill Heetderks, who directs research at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, part of the National Institutes of Health said:
If this works, it is going to be absolutely fantastic. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s going to be another step down the road.
Stephen T. Miller of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago said that if this treatment was performed after the mice had their first MS-like attack, the attacks stopped for the entire duration of their life. He’s not sure if humans would need multiple sessions of this kind of treatment, but he’s optimistic as to the ramifications for human treatment, especially as humans and mice have similar immune systems.
Miller explained that there’s still a considerable amount of research and testing to be done, but emphasized that this method could be used to treat any autoimmune disease. Hear that, celiacs? This treatment could even allow you to eat wheat. He said that scientists could attach nanoparticles of foods that cause allergies:
You can try to induce tolerance to peanuts or eggs or shellfish or whatever you are allergic to.
While I don’t totally grasp the idea of cells communicating amongst one another in order to stop attacking other cells, this certainly sounds like it could be a watershed advance in treatment options for sufferers of MS and other autoimmune diseases.