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"Inverse Vaccine" Shows Potential in Reversing Multiple Sclerosis

A woman in her mid thirties embraces her elderly mother
An estimated 2.5 million people live with MS worldwide. An estimated 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the US.

By Matt Phillips Innovation & Design at ISS

Researchers from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago have developed a novel "inverse vaccine" that demonstrates the potential to completely reverse autoimmune diseases in mice without suppressing the entire immune system. This revolutionary approach has implications for a host of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn's disease.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's immune system mistakenly targets and attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. Currently, treatments primarily focus on managing symptoms rather than providing a cure. The central causes of these diseases remain elusive, though factors like genetics, environment, and certain viral infections can increase risk.

Dr. Jeffrey Hubbell, lead author of the study, explains that while traditional vaccines boost immune responses to pathogens, "An inverse vaccine can instead unwind such immunity." In autoimmune conditions, these vaccines "deactivate immune cells that have erroneously been licensed to attack one’s own cells and even generate cells that can act so as to further tamp down immunity, called regulatory T cells," Hubbell said.

The inverse vaccine's effectiveness was showcased in a study involving a mouse model with an autoimmune condition mimicking multiple sclerosis. Results revealed that after vaccine administration, the immune system ceased its assault on myelin, a protective layer around nerves. This cessation allowed nerve function restoration and symptom reversal in the subjects.

Hubbell describes their innovative approach as one that "hijacks one of the mechanisms the body uses to maintain tolerance." By coupling this mechanism with proteins attacked in specific autoimmune diseases, the researchers were able to effectively harness and redirect the body's own tolerance mechanisms.

While the results are promising, experts emphasize that this is a preliminary study in mice. Dr. Barbara Giesser, a neurologist specializing in multiple sclerosis, cautions, “This is a preliminary study in a mouse model, and human trials are needed to determine if this approach is safe and effective in people.” Nevertheless, the study's findings offer hope for millions suffering from autoimmune conditions, with clinical testing already underway for diseases like celiac disease and multiple sclerosis.

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