Scientists develop a new class of drug to treat autoimmune diseases without compromising immune system

research-1029340_1920New research from the University of Calgary and published in Nature, could change the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis in the future.

Researchers at the university’s Cumming School of Medicine have discovered a way to stop autoimmune diseases without compromising immunity in general. Using animal models and human cells in animal models, researchers have discovered a novel mechanism which appears to stop the immune attack and they have now developed a new class of drugs that can harness this mechanism to treat various autoimmune diseases, without compromising the entire immune system.

There are more than 80 immune diseases which affect people, where white blood cells, which are normally warding off foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, mistakenly start to attack and destroy the body’s own ‘good cells’. Each specific autoimmune disease results from an attack against thousands of individual protein fragments in the targeted part of the body, such as the insulin-producing pancreatic cells in the case of type 1 diabetes.

Lead researcher in the study, Mr Pere Sanamaria, has shown that nanoparticles (particles thousands of times smaller than a typical cell) decorated with protein targets, acting as ‘bait’ for disease-causing white blood cells, can be used to reprogram them to suppress the disease they intended to cause.

This new class of drugs (nanomedicines called Navacims®) exploits a naturally occurring process, previously unknown to scientists, that is wired into our immune system to protect us against autoimmune diseases.

The researchers have discovered that this mechanism and the nanomedicines that exploit it can be applied to several, and potentially, all, autoimmune diseases in animals, simply by changing the ‘bait’ on the nanoparticles.

For most autoimmune treatment, current drugs have no way to distinguishing between ‘rogue’ white blood cells and normal ones which can mean that drugs used to treat these diseases also suppress normal immunity leaving people susceptible to other illnesses.

“This discovery is significant because we now know how to stop autoimmune diseases in a highly specific manner without compromising immunity in general,” says Dr. Santamaria.

“Imagine if you wanted to stop a war,” he continues. “You would probably want to take out the entire army, which is what current drugs try to do.” He notes that this new class of drugs deals with this problem from a completely different perspective “Rather than taking soldiers out, our drugs trick a single soldier into becoming the ‘traitor’ that takes out the army General.” He adds, “Without the General, the army ceases to operate and the war ends.”

Santamaria’s new drugs are currently being developed for the treatment of specific human autoimmune diseases by Parvus Therapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company he founded with Innovate Calgary.

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