How can the immune system be reprogrammed once it goes on the attack against its own body? EPFL scientists retrained T-cells involved in type I diabetes, a common autoimmune disease. Using a modified protein, they precisely targeted the white blood cells (T-lymphocytes, or T-cells) that were attacking pancreatic cells and causing the disease. When tested on laboratory mice, the therapy eliminated all signs of the pathology. This same method could be a very promising avenue for treating multiple sclerosis as well. The scientists have just launched a start-up company, Anokion SA, on the Lausanne campus, and are planning to conduct clinical trials within the next two years. Their discovery has been published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).
To retrain the rebellious white blood cells, the researchers began with a relatively simple observation: every day, thousands of our cells die. Each time a cell bites the dust, it sends out a message to the immune system. If the death is caused by trauma, such as an inflammation, the message tends to stimulate white blood cells to become aggressive. But if the cell dies a programmed death at the end of its natural life cycle, it sends out a soothing signal.
In the human body there is a type of cell that dies off en masse, on the order of 200 billion per day red blood cells. Each of these programmed deaths sends a soothing message to the immune system. The scientists took advantage of this situation, and attached the pancreatic protein targeted by T-cells in type I diabetes to red blood cells.
"Our idea was that by associating the protein under attack to a soothing event, like the programmed death of red blood cells, we would reduce the intensity of the immune response," explains Jeffrey Hubbell, co-author of the study. To do this, the researchers had to do some clever bioengineering and equip the protein with a tiny, molecular scale hook, that is able to attach i
|Contact: Lionel Pousaz|
Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne