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Could new nanotech be the first to treat MS without affecting immune system?

By Natalie Morrison , 19-Nov-2012

Researchers believe a new nanoparticle could provide the first MS therapy that does not suppress the immune system.

Traditional therapies for multiple sclerosis (MS) – which attacks the myelin membrane which insulates cells in vital organs – suppress the overall activity of the immune system.

However the new technology uses the polymer Poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLG) “decorated” in the antigens used to treat the disease, the researchers say they are able to create a T-cell response which will reproduce the right antigens without ever touching the rest of the immune system.

The team – made up of scientists from Northwestern University, US, the University of Sydney, Australia and the US Myelin Repair Foundation – believe the nanoparticles could be a cheaper version of Phase I and II personalised medicine trials which use the patients’ own white blood cells. 

Though the current technology has been tested only in mice, the researchers believe the advantages of nanoparticles– for instance the fact they are easily reproducible and can be standardised for manufacturing – means their project has a bigger potential for commercial success. Their findings were published in Nature Biotech last week.

"The key here is that this antigen/particle-based approach to induction of tolerance is selective and targeted. Unlike generalized immunosuppression, which is the current therapy used for autoimmune diseases, this new process does not shut down the whole immune system," said Christine Kelley, directpr at National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which backed the trial.

The particles can also be used to treat a range of other immune deficiency conditions including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies and airway allergies such as asthma.

"This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy," said Stephen Miller, one of the authors. "The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that's delivered."

How it works

The nanoparticles injected in the mice travelled to the spleen, where macrophage immune cells then adopted the antigens on their cell surface.

The process “tricks” the immune system into believing the nanoparticles are ordinary dying blood cells being filtered out of the system by the spleen, and hence allows safe passage of the myelin responsive T cells through the blood stream. 

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