Is a vaccine for autoimmune disease on the horizon?

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A major breakthrough in the study of autoimmune diseases – in the form of an experimental vaccine that prevents rheumatoid arthritis – is reported in a leading academic journal.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and breaks down healthy tissue – usually the lining of joints in the hands, wrists, ankles and knees. It affects as many as 1% of the global population, there is no cure and we don’t know exactly what brings it on.


“This is true of nearly all autoimmune diseases, which makes treating or preventing them so difficult,” says Dr Ritu Chakravarti, who heads up the new research.

A protein that the research team thought may trigger rheumatoid arthritis, actually protects against it. They used the protein to make a vaccine, and tests showed it promotes a strong, immediate and long-lasting response from the body’s immune system, providing protection against the disease.

“Much to our happy surprise, the rheumatoid arthritis totally disappeared in animals that received a vaccine,” Dr Chakravarti explains. The vaccine hasn’t yet been tested in humans, so that’s next on the agenda. “We have not made any really big discoveries toward treating or preventing rheumatoid arthritis in many years,” outlines Dr Chakravarti.

“Our approach is completely different. This is a vaccine-based strategy based on a novel target that we hope can treat or prevent rheumatoid arthritis. If we can successfully get this vaccine into the clinic, it would be revolutionary.”

Click here to read the original research. 

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