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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Multiple Sclerosis could be 'switched off' by retraining immune system

Scientists believe they are close to developing a drug which could 'switch off' autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis by training the body to stop attacking itself

Scientists believe that regular injections could retrain the immune system and 'switch off' autoimmune diseases
Scientists believe that regular injections could retrain the 
immune system and 'switch off' autoimmune diseases 
Photo: Simon Belcher/ Alamy

By Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent - Sept 3, 2014

Scientists believe they have discovered a way to ‘switch off’ autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or Type 1 diabetes by retraining the immune system.
Autoimmune diseases are so debilitating because they trick the body into attacking itself.
But a team at Bristol University has shown that the immune system can be taught to stop treating harmless everyday proteins as if they were dangerous invaders.
In Multiple Sclerosis (MS) the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths which protect nerve fibres.
The nerves carry messages to and from the brain and if they are disrupted it leads to a host or problems such as loss of mobility, vision impairment and fatigue.
However by synthesising proteins from the sheaths in a lab, and then injecting them into the blood stream at increasing doses, the body begins to learn that they are safe.
This type of therapy has already been used for allergies in a treatment known as ‘allgergic desensitisation’ but it’s only recently that scientists have thought that it could be useful elsewhere.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, said the ‘important breakthrough’ could improve the lives of millions of people who are suffering from a range of diseases.

First author Dr Bronwen Burton said: “The immune system works by recognising antigens which could cause infection.

“In allergies the immune system mounts a response to something like pollen or nuts because it wrongly believes they will harm the body.

“But in autoimmune diseases the immune systems sees little protein fragments in your own tissue as foreign invaders and starts attacking them.

“What we have found is that by synthesising those proteins in a soluble form we can desensitise the immune system by giving an escalating dose.”

The team hope that the breakthrough could lead to the development of immunotherapies for individual conditions, based on the protein or antigen that the body is responding too.

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