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Research breakthrough selectively represses the immune system
Date:11/18/2012

Reporters, please see "For news media only" box at the end of the release for embargoed sound bites of researchers.

In a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have developed innovative technology to selectively inhibit the part of the immune system responsible for attacking myelinthe insulating material that encases nerve fibers and facilitates electrical communication between brain cells.

Autoimmune disorders occur when T-cellsa type of white blood cell within the immune systemmistake the body's own tissues for a foreign substance and attack them. Current treatment for autoimmune disorders involves the use of immunosuppressant drugs which tamp down the overall activity of the immune system. However, these medications leave patients susceptible to infections and increase their risk of cancer as the immune system's normal ability to identify and destroy aberrant cells within the body is compromised.

Supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at NIH, Drs. Stephen Miller and Lonnie Shea at Northwestern University, Evanston, teamed up with researchers at the University of Sydney, and the Myelin Repair Foundation in Saratoga, Calif. to come up with a novel way of repressing only the part of the immune system that causes autoimmune disorders while leaving the rest of the system intact.

The new research takes advantage of a natural safeguard employed by the body to prevent autoreactive T-cellswhich recognize and have the potential to attack the body's healthy tissuesfrom becoming active. They report their results in the Nov. 18 online edition of Nature Biotechnology.

"We're trying to do something that interfaces with the natural processes in the body," said Shea. "The body has natural mechanisms for shutting down an immune response that is inappropriate, and we're really just looking to tap into that."

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Contact: Margot Kern
nibibpress@mail.nih.gov
301-496-3500
NIH/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging & Bioengineering
Source:Eurekalert

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