Autoimmune Diseases Blocked in Mice: Experimental T Cell Treatment Thwarted Diabetes, Halted MS

By Saey, Tina Hesman | Science News, July 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

Autoimmune Diseases Blocked in Mice: Experimental T Cell Treatment Thwarted Diabetes, Halted MS


Saey, Tina Hesman, Science News


A new strategy to rebalance out-of-control immune systems could one day stop autoimmune diseases. The method, tested in mice, preserves the body's ability to fight off bacteria and viruses.

Autoimmune diseases result when the immune system mistakes some of the body's proteins for invaders and attacks organs. Doctors usually treat such disorders--including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis--with immune-suppressing drugs. The drugs calm the attacks but damage the ability to fight infections and cancer.

But the immune system can relearn that the body's proteins are friends, not foes, scientists report in the June 18 Science Translational Medicine. They broke down and rebuilt the immune systems of mice with diseases that mimic type 1 diabetes and MS, stopping the progress of diabetes in four out of five mice. Animals with a disease similar to MS went into remission.

The treatment works by depleting the faulty immune cells and stimulating the formation of new ones called regulatory T cells, or T-regs. T-regs are akin to military police that watch over the immune system's soldier cells to make sure they kill only foes and don't damage the body's own cells with friendly fire, says immunologist Wan Jun Chen of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Md., who led the study. Autoimmune diseases occur in part because T-regs aren't doing their job.

Chen's T-reg strategy may allow researchers to fix wayward immune systems instead of just quashing them. "Conceptually, these findings have broken the bottleneck in manipulating T-regs for the treatment of human diseases, especially autoimmune diseases," he says.

Before new T-regs could form, the researchers had to eliminate old, corrupted immune cells. The team dosed sick mice with enough radiation to cause 60 to 80 percent of their immune cells to commit a form of programmed suicide known as apoptosis. …

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