University of Chicago researchers have identified a new method of treating multiple sclerosis which has been shown to be more effective that current treatments in studies on mice.
Multiple sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the outer protective myelin coating of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which affects the ability of the nerves to transmit signals. Without the myelin to protect the nerve cells, the transmission of signals is slowed, signals can become distorted, or they can be prevented from being transmitted altogether.
Around 1 million people in the United States are currently living with MS, with several million globally. The symptoms of the disease are diverse and can range from mild to debilitating. While there is no cure, there are treatments for managing symptoms, preventing relapses, and slowing the progression of the disease.
Researchers have been studying the disease to find ways of managing symptoms more effectively and preventing the disease from developing. Researchers from UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering appear to have made a breakthrough.
The immune system usually protects the body and attacks foreign invaders, but in MS patients, autoreactive immune cells infiltrate the central nervous systems and attack myelin. Research has shown that a type of immune cell – Th17 cells – play a role in the severity of the disease. These immune cells are activated by the secondary lymphoid organs, migrate to the brain, and attack myelin. Drugs have been developed that target these cells in the lymph nodes to prevent them from attacking tissue; however, while the drugs are effective they can cause adverse side effects.
An alternative therapy has been developed using Interleuin-4 (IL-4). IL-4 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine which has been shown to suppress reactivation of Th17 cells. In order to use IL-4 as a therapy for MS, the researchers first needed to find a way of keeping IL-4 in the lymphoid organs to suppress Th17 cells and prevent them from migrating to the brain. They achieved this by binding IL-4 to a blood protein.
The researchers injected the bound IL-4 into a mouse model of MS and demonstrated that the bound IL-4 remained within the secondary lymphoid organs, reduced infiltration of Th17 cells into the spinal cord, thus suppressing the disease and reducing symptoms. In the mouse model, the treatment prevented the mice from developing MS and in contrast to MS drugs, there were few side effects from the treatment.
“This is the first time anyone has shown how the fusion of this protein to immunosuppressive cytokines can treat and prevent multiple sclerosis,” said Jun Ishihara, co-corresponding author of the paper.
The researchers are now conducting studies to investigate potential toxicity and they hope to move forward to clinical trials. The researchers note that the treatment could potentially be administered by patients in their homes using an injector pen and could lead to a significant improvement in quality of life.
You can read more about the study in the paper – Prolonged residence of an albumin–IL-4 fusion protein in secondary lymphoid organs ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis – which was recently published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. DOI: 10.1038/s41551-020-00627-3