The University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering has announced that they’ve come up with a way to make a person’s immune system forget a molecule – a process that’s the reverse of a vaccine, which teaches an immune system to remember one molecule or microorganism, and that has the potential to eliminate disease like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type-1 diabetes:
PME researchers coupled an antigen — a molecule being attacked by the immune system— with a molecule resembling a fragment of an aged cell that the liver would recognize as friend, rather than foe. The team showed how the vaccine could successfully stop the autoimmune reaction associated with a multiple-sclerosis-like disease.
“In the past, we showed that we could use this approach to prevent autoimmunity,” said Jeffrey Hubbell, the Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and lead author of the new paper. “But what is so exciting about this work is that we have shown that we can treat diseases like multiple sclerosis after there is already ongoing inflammation, which is more useful in a real-world context.”
Hubbell and his colleagues knew that the body has a mechanism for ensuring that immune reactions don’t occur in response to every damaged cell in the body — a phenomenon known as peripheral immune tolerance, which is carried out in the liver. They discovered in recent years that tagging molecules with a sugar known as N-acetylgalactosamine (pGal) could mimic this process, sending the molecules to the liver where tolerance to them develops.
“The idea is that we can attach any molecule we want to pGal and it will teach the immune system to tolerate it,” explained Hubbell. “Rather than rev up immunity as with a vaccine, we can tamp it down in a very specific way with an inverse vaccine.”
You can read more of the UChicago research here, in Nature Biomedical Engineering.