Nanoparticle shows promise in treatment of multiple sclerosis


November 19, 2012

A 750x view of the Poly(lactide-co-glycolide) nanoparticles used in the study (Image: Lonnie Shea)

A 750x view of the Poly(lactide-co-glycolide) nanoparticles used in the study (Image: Lonnie Shea)

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Good news may be on the way for sufferers of multiple sclerosis – a team of scientists from Illinois-based Northwestern University, the University of Sydney, and the Myelin Repair Foundation in California have succeeded in halting the effects of the disease in lab mice. It all comes down to using nanoparticles to trick the immune system.

A normal nerve cell (left) and one affected by MS (Image: Shutterstock)

When someone has MS, their immune system attacks the myelin membrane that serves as an insulator for the nerve cells in their brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. With that membrane compromised, the nerve cells can’t properly conduct electrical signals, resulting in limb numbness, paralysis or blindness. Some treatments attempt to address this situation by suppressing the entire immune system, although this leaves patients open to infections, and increases their risk of cancer.

The new treatment incorporates biodegradable nanoparticles made from a polymer called Poly(lactide-co-glycolide), “an easily produced and already FDA-approved substance.” They were developed by Lonnie Shea, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In the mouse trials, myelin was attached to the nanoparticles, which were then injected into mice with a disease very similar to relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Once in the bloodstream, the nanoparticles made their way to the spleen, where the blood is filtered and dying blood cells are disposed of. There, they were engulfed by immune cells known as macrophages.

Ordinarily when this happens, the dying cell releases proteins, letting the immune system know that no response is required. In this case, the nanoparticles were interpreted as ordinary dying cells, and their accompanying myelin was thus viewed as something that didn’t require an immune response. This in turn caused the immune system to call off its attack on the animals’ existing myelin membranes, essentially telling the myelin-specific T cells (white blood cells that go after foreign bodies) to “stand down.”

In this way, only the part of the immune system that attacked the myelin membranes was suppressed – everything else was left intact. The mice had no relapses for up to 100 days, which the scientists say is the equivalent of several years for a human MS patient.

It is believed that the same sort of technology could be used to treat other immune system-related disorders such as Type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and asthma. The material attached to the nanoparticles would simply need to be changed accordingly.

The team is now looking towards beginning clinical trails on human MS patients. In a trial already underway, myelin is being introduced to test subjects by attaching it to their own white blood cells. While this approach also shows promise, it is said to be considerably more expensive and labor-intensive than using the nanoparticles.

A paper on the research was published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Sources: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Wow, that's pretty exciting!--like resetting a part of the system


sounds promising, really hope trials go well.


Amazing! I'm pretty excited about this. What other autoimmune diseases can we start treating if this works? I want to know how the ongoing existing trial works out too

Richard Cook

I truly hope this works, and perhaps they can look at utilizing it for patients with ALS? What a wonderful thing if it works.... And I am confident that MANY (if not all) who are suffering with these diseases would be more than willing to be the "guinea pigs"....


i wish it works. If it is so, will be extraordinary.

Teresa Gimenez Jannone

This wont cure MS in humans. Delivering antigens using nanoparticles has been done before. The problem is this delivery might be translatable to humans (something that has been done before) however, its the antigen that is the issue and has been for years. The antigen they used in mice wont work on humans, and this has been shown in over 20 large studies. At the end of the day all they did was more efficiently cure mice of MS, which is something that has been done before. The pathways are just different in humans

Mohamad Abdallah

I find this research fascinating. I hope it works. I am part of a study being done by Dr. Raymond Damadian and Dr. Scott Rosa in which they feel MS is caused by head and /or neck trauma which results in the blockage of CSF flow in the cervical spine area. This then leads to high CSF pressure in the brain...and eventually the leakage of CSF...damaging the myelin lining of the nerves. (study can be accessed at "") I was an example of this. Dr. Rosa aligned my cervical spine, opening up the CSF flow and I have had notable improvement...even though I was and am in the secondary progressive stage of this disease. (If you open up the flow of CSF and stop the leakage, you stop the disease. The brain should heal itself.) Wouldn't it be great if this nanoparticle approach could speed up the healing process?

La Rowe
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