Northwestern Medicine researchers have developed a biodegradable nanoparticle that stealthily delivers an antigen that tricks the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin and haltd a model of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice, according to new research.
The nanoparticles can also be applied to other immune-mediated diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and asthma.
In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin membrane that insulates nerves cells in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. When the insulation is destroyed, electrical signals can’t be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness. About 80 percent of MS patients are diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form of the disease.
The nanoparticles do not suppress the entire immune system, as do current therapies for MS, which make patients more susceptible to everyday infections and higher rates of cancer. Rather, when the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens and injected into the mice, the immune system is reset to normal. The immune system stops recognizing myelin as an alien invader and halts its attack on it.
“This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy,” said Stephen Miller, a corresponding author of the study and the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that’s delivered.”
“The holy grail is to develop a therapy that is specific to the pathological immune response, in this case the body attacking myelin,” Miller added. “Our approach resets the immune system so it no longer attacks myelin, but leaves the function of the normal immune system intact.“