Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Northwestern Medicine researchers say they have discovered a big breakthrough that could help people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).
The researchers completed the first phase of a clinical trial for the first treatment to reset the immune system of MS patients. They found that the patients showed the therapy was safe and dramatically reduced their immune systems’ reactivity to myelin by 50 to 75 percent.
In MS, the immune system attacks and destroys myeline, which is the insulating layer that forms around nerves in the spinal cord, brain and optic nerve. When the insulation is destroyed, electrical signals cannot be effectively conducted, which results in symptoms that range from mild numbness to paralysis or blindness.
“The therapy stops autoimmune responses that are already activated and prevents the activation of new autoimmune cells,” said Stephen Miller, the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our approach leaves the function of the normal immune system intact. That’s the holy grail.”
During the trial, the team used MS patients’ own white blood cells to stealthily deliver billions of myelin antigens into their bodies so their immune systems would recognize them as harmless and develop tolerance to them. Current therapies for MS suppress the entire immune system, which makes patients more susceptible to everyday infections and higher rates of cancer.
The study showed that patients who received the highest dose of white blood cells had the greatest reduction in myelin reactivity.
According to the researchers, the primary goal of the study was to demonstrate that the treatment was safe and tolerable. The study accomplished this by showing intravenous injection with myelin antigens caused no adverse affects in MS patients.
The study sets the stage for a phase two trial to determine if the treatment can prevent the progression of MS in humans. Scientists are trying to raise $1.5 million to launch the trial, which has already been proven in Switzerland.
“In the phase 2 trial we want to treat patients as early as possible in the disease before they have paralysis due to myelin damage.” Miller said. “Once the myelin is destroyed, it’s hard to repair that.”
This therapy may not only be useful for treating MS, but could also help other autoimmune and allergic diseases by simply switching the antigens attached to the cells.
This research comes a week after “World MS Day” took place in over 40 countries around the globe. This day was a worldwide collaborative awareness campaign to build understanding of MS, which is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults.