MS breakthrough: Scientists can now ‘turn off’ autoimmune diseases

In autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and many others, the body is attacking its own cells as if they’re some kind of invading army. For years, scientists have been trying to find a way to stop this process. Now researchers from the University of Bristol have made a breakthrough that could transform treatment options in future.

They found that by injecting tiny amounts of the protein that the cells are trying to attack, the body becomes desensitised to them. The dose is gradually increased until the immune system calms the heck down. The technique has successfully been used to treat allergies for years, but hadn’t been considered for more serious illnesses until recently.

Not only did the team from Bristol want to treat people using this method, they wanted to know more about how it works in order to measure the effectiveness of treatment and make it more sophisticated. So they studied which specific cells were involved, and found that changes in gene expression told the body to protect against infection but ignore its own harmless cells.

Using this technique for people with autoimmune illnesses could reduce the need for immunosuppressant drugs, which often have serious side effects. It’s now undergoing clinical trials with the help of biotechnology company Apitope, which is connected to the university. MS alone affects more than 2 million people around the world, most of them women, 100,000 of them in the UK, so it has the potential to improve the quality of millions of lives.

Image credit: University of Bristol/Dr Bronwen Burton.

Diane Shipley