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

ne of these natural mechanisms involves the ongoing clearance of apoptotic, or dying, cells from the body. When a cell dies, it releases chemicals that attract specific cells of the immune system called macrophages. These macrophages gobble up the dying cell and deliver it to the spleen where it presents self-antigenstiny portions of proteins from the dying cellto a pool of T-cells. In order to prevent autoreactive T-cells from being activated, macrophages initiate the repression of any T-cells capable of binding to the self-antigens.

Dr. Miller was the first to demonstrate that by coupling a specific self-antigen such as myelin to apoptotic cells, one could tap into this natural mechanism to suppress T-cells that would normally attack the myelin. The lab spent decades demonstrating that they could generate antigen-specific immune suppression in various animal models of autoimmune diseases. Recently, they initiated a preliminary clinical trial with collaborators in Germany to test the safety of injecting the antigen-bound apoptotic cells into patients with MS. While the trial successfully demonstrated that the injections were safe, it also highlighted a key problem with using cells as a vehicle for antigen delivery:

"Cellular therapy is extremely expensive as it needs to be carried out in a large medical center that has the capability to isolate patient's white blood cells under sterile conditions and to re-infuse those antigen-coupled cells back into the patients," said Miller. "It's a costly, difficult, and time-consuming procedure."

Thus began a collaboration with Dr. Shea, a bioengineer at Northwestern University, to discuss the possibility of developing a surrogate for the apoptotic cells. After trying out various formulations, his lab successfully linked the desired antigens to microscopic, biodegradable particles which they predicted would be taken up by circulating macrophages similar to apoptotic cells.

Much to the
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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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