Scientists develop a new approach to treating autoimmune disease

Jun 02, 2008

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system turns against the body's own tissues and organs, wreaking havoc and destruction for no apparent reason. Partly because the origins of these diseases are so obscure, no effective treatment exists, and the suffering they inflict is enormous. Now Weizmann Institute scientists have developed a method that in the future may make it possible to treat autoimmune diseases effectively without necessarily knowing their exact cause. Their approach is equivalent to sending a police force to suppress a riot without seeking out the individuals who instigated the unrest.

In healthy people, a small but crucial group of immune cells called regulatory T cells, or T-regs, keeps autoimmunity in check, but in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), one of the most common autoimmune disorders, too few of these cells appear in the diseased intestine, and the ones that do fail to function properly.

The new Weizmann Institute approach consists of delivering highly selective, genetically engineered functioning T-regs to the intestine. The study was conducted by Dr. Eran Elinav, a physician from Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center's gastroenterology institute who is working toward his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute, and lab assistant Tova Waks, in the laboratory of Prof. Zelig Eshhar of the Immunology Department.

Relying on Eshhar's earlier work in which he equipped a different type of T cell to zero in on cancerous tumors, the team genetically engineered T-regs, outfitting these cells with a modular receptor consisting of three units. One of these units directed the cells to the intestine while the other two made sure they became duly activated. As reported in the journal Gastroenterology, the approach proved effective in laboratory mice with a disease that simulates human IBD: Most of the mice treated with the genetically-engineered T-regs developed only mild inflammation or no inflammation at all.

The cells produced what the scientists called a 'bystander' effect: They were directed to the diseased tissue using neighboring, or 'bystander' markers that identified the area as a site of inflammation, and suppressed the inflammatory cells in the vicinity by secreting soluble suppressive substances.

The scientists are currently experimenting with human T-regs for curing ulcerative colitis and believe that in addition to IBD, their 'bystander' approach could work in other autoimmune disorders, even if their causes remain unknown. They also think the method could be valuable in suppressing unwanted inflammation in diseases unrelated to autoimmunity, as well as in preventing graft rejection and certain complications in bone marrow and organ transplantation, in which inflammation is believed to play a major role.

Source: Weizmann Institute of Science

Explore further: S. Korea reports two additional MERS cases

Related Stories

Godwits are flexible... when they get the chance

5 hours ago

Black-tailed godwits are able to cope with unpredictable weather. This was revealed by a thorough analysis of the extraordinary spring of 2013 by ecologist Nathan Senner of the University of Groningen and ...

Recommended for you

Score IDs patients with upper extremity DVT at low risk

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For patients with upper-extremity deep vein thrombosis (DVT), six easily available factors can be used to create a score that identifies those at low risk of adverse events during the first ...

Combined drug treatment combats kidney disease

13 hours ago

A recent discovery by drug researchers whereby coupling specific cell membrane receptors has altered kidney cell function has triggered a re-think of how to treat chronic kidney disease (CKD) more effectively.

Active substance targeting dreaded hospital germs

13 hours ago

In the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), scientists have conducted clinical studies on an active substance against the dreaded hospital pathogen Staphylococcus aureus: a highly effective protein from bacteriophages ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.