In multiple sclerosis, the body’s immune system attacks and damages myelin, which is the insulating layer on nerves in the spinal cord, brain and optic nerve. Just as would happen with an electrical cord with compromised insulation, this causes the nerves to short-circuit and cease functioning properly. An international team of scientists, however, have recently reported success in the first phase of clinical trials in which MS victims’ immune systems were conditioned to become much more tolerant of myelin.
In the study, white blood cells were obtained from nine MS-afflicted test subjects. These cells were specially processed, coupled with myelin antigens, and then injected intravenously back into their respective donors – up to 3 billion of these dead, treated cells were injected into each person.
When they entered the spleen, which filters dead cells from the bloodstream, both the white blood cells themselves and their myelin antigen payloads were identified by the body as being innocuous. This caused the immune system to become 50 to 75 percent less reactive to myelin, depending on the person and the number of cells injected.
Importantly, the procedure lowered the immune system’s response to myelin only. Some other MS treatments just lessen the strength of the immune system overall, leaving the patient more susceptible to infections and cancer.
While animal trials have indicated that the procedure actually helps halt the progression of MS in mice, these first human trials were intended more to establish the safety of the procedure. Phase 2 of the human trials, if it’s successfully funded, will be aimed more at observing how the treatment affects the disease itself.
Taking part in the study are Chicago’s Northwestern University, University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, and Germany’s University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. Northwestern’s Prof. Stephen Miller has also been exploring the use of nanoparticles instead of white blood cells as delivery vehicles for the antigens, which would be both less expensive and labor-intensive.
Source: Northwestern University