Researchers at the University of Calgary, Canada, in collaboration with other centers in Spain and the United States say they have identified a way to stop immune attacks in animal models, and have developed a new class of nanomedicines to treat autoimmune diseases.
The study, “Expanding antigen-specific regulatory networks to treat autoimmunity,” was published in the journal Nature.
Autoimmune diseases emerge from an abnormal immune response of the body, which ultimately leads to the destruction of its own healthy cells, resulting in inflamed and damaged body tissues. More than 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified — such as diabetes — where the immune system attacks the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells, resulting in the reduction of insulin-producing cells.
The development of treatments for autoimmune diseases is a challenge because the drugs are unable to differentiate the disease-inducing immune cells from normal ones. As a result, they may compromise the entire immune system.
The research team used animal models and animal models with transplanted human immune cells to perform their experiments. They showed that novel nanoparticles modified with target proteins could serve as “bait” for the immune cells responsible for inducing autoimmune diseases, preventing them from attacking healthy tissues, and preserving the functionality of the immune system.
Based on this new mechanism, the team developed a new class of nanomedicine drugs called Navacims.
“Imagine if you wanted to stop a war,” Dr. Pere Santamaria, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and the study’s senior author, said in a news release. “You would probably want to take out the entire army, which is what current drugs try to do.”
He said this new class of drugs deals with this problem from a different perspective. “Rather than taking soldiers out, our drugs trick a single soldier into becoming the ‘traitor’ that takes out the army general,” he said, adding, “Without the general, the army ceases to operate and the war ends.”
The team also found that all autoimmune diseases could potentially be treated by adjusting the bait deposited on the nanoparticles.
“This discovery is significant because we now know how to stop autoimmune diseases in a highly specific manner without compromising immunity in general,” Santamaria said.
Parvus Therapeutics, a biotechnology company Santamaria founded with Innovate Calgary, is developing the drugs as new therapies for certain autoimmune diseases.