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Exciting breakthrough announced for multiple sclerosis sufferers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Those afflicted with multiple sclerosis, or MS have a condition that attacks the protein myelin, which insulates the body's spinal cord, brain and optic nerves. MS patients experience symptoms such as numbness in their limbs, paralysis and sometimes blindness. While there is no cure yet for the condition, researchers have now discovered a treatment capable of reducing MS patients' autoimmune response.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - During a phase one clinical trial of a new treatment for MS patients, researchers were able to curtail the body's attacks on myelin by 50 to 75 percent, while sustaining the functionality of the rest of the immune system.

Currently, MS treatment attempt to lessen the body's autoimmune response to myelin. The side effect sometimes results in decreased effectiveness of the entire immune system.

"Most therapies for autoimmune diseases employ approaches broadly called immuno-suppressors - they knock down immune response without specificity," study co-author Stephen Miller, professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine says.

"People can become highly susceptible to everyday infections and develop higher rates of cancer."

Researchers sought "tolerance" treatment that would leave the greater immune system intact while knocking out only the autoimmune response to myelin.

"In MS, the idea is to target auto-reactive T-cells directed against myelin . which would (reduce) disease progression, but wouldn't make patient susceptible to higher rates of infection," Miller said.

A small group of MS patients were treated intravenously with an infusion of their own white blood cells, which had been engineered to carry billions of myelin antigens. Scientists hope the cells will teach the body to stop attacking myelin.

The new treatment, based on 30 years of previous research, could be safely applied in humans.

"It was safe to infuse as many as 3 billion autologous cells that we collected and manipulated back into the same patient and didn't trigger exacerbations," Miller said. "Most patients didn't show any increased signs of disease during the six-month follow up."

More importantly, the new treatment did not seem to impede the larger immune system. Researchers tested this by analyzing whether or not each patient continued to retain their immunity to tetanus, for which all of the patients had previously been vaccinated.

"Among four patients receiving the highest doses (of autologous cells), immune response to myelin antigens had diminished or gone away - but tetanus had not gone away," Miller said.

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