Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases could be reversed or even cured by retraining the immune system to protect the body’s tissue instead of attacking it.
That’s according to scientists at Bristol University who have discovered a way to prevent the body’s immune system from targeting and destroying harmless proteins that play vital roles in our health.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, mistaking them as foreign invaders, while multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs when the myelin sheaths which protect the nerves that carry messages to and from the brain are mistakenly attacked.
But in a new study, researchers say they were able to use antigen-specific immunotherapy to selectively target rogue cells that cause autoimmunity, reduce their aggression against the body’s own tissues, and convert them into cells capable of protecting against disease. This method of converting cells is known as “allergic desensitisation”.
They explain that in autoimmune diseases, little protein fragments in the body are usually the target for autoimmune attack. But by synthesising those proteins in a soluble form, the immune system can be desensitised (or corrected) by administering an escalating dose of antigen fragments.
The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, could lead to the development of new drug treatments for autoimmune disease that remove the need for immune suppressive drugs (immunosuppressants such as corticosteroids), which have their own set of associated side effects.
In a statement, lead researcher Professor David Wraith said: “Insight into the molecular basis of antigen-specific immunotherapy opens up exciting new opportunities to enhance the selectivity of the approach while providing valuable markers with which to measure effective treatment.
“These findings have important implications for the many patients suffering from autoimmune conditions that are currently difficult to treat.”

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