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'Inverse vaccine' for autoimmune diseases

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

US researchers have used mice to develop an ‘inverse vaccine’ with the potential to combat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and cells. And while traditional vaccines target molecules from invasive viruses and bacteria, this new ‘inverse vaccine’ approach focuses on erasing the immune system’s memory and targeting of its own cells.

The team at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, used the liver’s natural ability, to label molecules from ageing cells as non-threatening to the immune system, to develop a vaccine.

They coupled myelin (a molecule that coats body nerve cells and provokes an immune response in autoimmune disorders) with a sugar molecule that looks like parts of ageing cells processed by the liver.

In a mice autoimmune disease model, this ‘inverse vaccine’ encouraged the immune system to recognise myelin as friendly rather than hostile – see also Nature Biomedical Engineering.

PME team leader Jeffrey Hubbell said: “[Traditional] treatments can be very effective, but you’re also blocking the immune responses necessary to fight off infections and so there are a lot of side effects.”

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