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A promising new approach to autoimmune diseases
Date:6/2/2011

BOSTON Researchers from Harvard Medical School and MIT have developed a new approach for identifying the "self" proteins targeted in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, H. Benjamin Larman and colleagues showed that errant immune responses which mistakenly target the body's own proteins rather than foreign invaders can now be examined in molecular detail. Further research could lead to new insights into the exact causes of these debilitating autoimmune disorders. The results come from the laboratory of Stephen Elledge, the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and Medicine at HMS and senior author of the study.

The immune system, the body's main line of defense against disease, has a critical responsibility to distinguish self-derived proteins from those of invaders like viruses and bacteria. Autoimmune diseases arise when a person's immune system fails to make that critical distinction and mistakenly attacks a normal tissue, such as nerve, joint, or insulin-producing pancreatic cells. These disorders are usually progressive and in some cases even lead to life-threating disease. Understanding where the immune system went wrong has been a major goal for generations of biomedical researchers.

"Knowledge of the self-antigens involved in autoimmune processes is important not only for understanding disease etiology, but also for developing diagnostic tests," the authors write. "In addition, physicians may someday use antigen-specific therapies to destroy or disable auto-reactive immune cells."

But looking through the haystack of cellular complexity for those single-needle self-antigens targeted by the immune system has proved daunting, to say the least. Ideally, scientists would be to develop some kind of biological magnet that could pull these fine needles out of the mass.

In this report, the researchers describe an app
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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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