New inverse vaccine shows potential to treat multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, says study
The vaccine takes advantage of how the liver naturally marks molecules from broken-down cells with do not attack flags to prevent autoimmune reactions.
A new type of "inverse vaccine” has been shown in the lab setting to completely reverse autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, all without shutting down the rest of the immune system, according to a study. A typical vaccine teaches the human immune system to recognise a virus or bacteria as an enemy that should be attacked.
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However, the new vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) in the US does just the opposite: it removes the immune system's memory of one molecule.
While such immune memory erasure would be unwanted for infectious diseases, it can stop autoimmune reactions like those seen in multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system attacks a person's healthy tissues, the researchers said.
The vaccine, described in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, takes advantage of how the liver naturally marks molecules from broken-down cells with “do not attack” flags to prevent autoimmune reactions to cells that die by natural processes.
The team coupled an antigen—a molecule being attacked by the immune system—with a molecule resembling a fragment of an aged cell that the liver would recognise as friend, rather than an enemy.
The team showed how the vaccine could successfully stop the autoimmune reaction associated with a multiple-sclerosis-like disease.
"In the past, we showed that we could use this approach to prevent autoimmunity,” said Jeffrey Hubbell, the Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and lead author of the new paper.
“But what is so exciting about this work is that we have shown that we can treat diseases like multiple sclerosis after there is already ongoing inflammation, which is more useful in a real-world context,” Hubbell said.
Today, autoimmune diseases are generally treated with drugs that broadly shut down the immune system.
"These treatments can be very effective, but you’re also blocking the immune responses necessary to fight off infections and so there are a lot of side effects,” said Hubbell.
"If we could treat patients with an inverse vaccine instead, it could be much more specific and lead to fewer side effects," he added.
Initial phase I safety trials of a antigen therapy based on this preclinical work have already been carried out in people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that is associated with eating wheat, barley and rye, and phase I safety trials are under way in multiple sclerosis, the researchers said.
Those trials are conducted by Swiss pharmaceutical company Anokion SA, which helped fund the new work and which Hubbell cofounded and is a consultant, board member, and equity holder.
"There are no clinically approved inverse vaccines yet, but we are incredibly excited about moving this technology forward," Hubbell added.