Though at present there is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago in the U.S. have carried out a medical trial which will benefit patients suffering from MS. The paper was published in June, 2013 in Science Transnational Medicine.
Multiple Sclerosis is an inflammatory disorder where the immune system of the body attacks the protein known as myelin. Myelin insulates the electrical signal of nerves, and it can be found in the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerve.
The symptoms of MS can be devastating and in many cases it produces paralysis and even blindness.
Stephen Miller, team and collaborators at the University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland as well as the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendof in Germany implemented an experimental treatment “instructing” the body not to attack and destroy the myelin.
Researchers extracted blood from patients and selected white blood cells from it. In a second phase in the laboratory they united the white blood cells with antigens – these are the parts that provoke the production of antibodies. In other words, these segments evoke an immune system reaction in a body. These are called autologous cells.
Nine patients had billions of manipulated autologous cells injected back into their bodies intravenously. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), immunological and neurological examinations were used to test the safety and tolerability of the treatment as well as to identify the in vivo process (what the body was experiencing in real time).
The outcome was very positive and it showed that the bodies of those patients with higher doses of manipulated white blood cells “learn” more effectively not to destroy the myelin. On the contrary, those with smaller doses of antigens experienced higher levels of attack on their myelin than the first group.
Within the experiment the results of the researchers’ tests also demonstrate that the infusion of these millions of cells into the body does not affect the immune system with regard to other pathogens. All the patients who underwent the experiment were previously vaccinated with tetanus vaccines. Their immune response to this illness after the experiment was still very high.
To lower the costs of this treatment and therefore make it easier for more patients to access, Stephen Miller has also used nanotechnology in his study targeting MS.
In an experiment that is at a preclinical stage, nanoparticles have been used as delivery agents instead of white blood cells. However, it will be necessary to run a risk assessment of the toxicity levels that this new system may generate.
In any case, this breakthrough may soon signify a further step towards a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.
Written By: Dinah JL Novak