New Kind of Therapy Shows Promise in MS Patients
Approach may shield patients' immune systems to allow safer treatment, study suggests
Six patients in the study had low disease activity, while three others had a history of more active disease. Most were not experiencing symptoms at the time of their treatment.
On the day of the treatments, patients spent about two hours hooked up to a machine that filtered their blood, harvesting white cells while returning red cells and plasma to the body.
After the white cells were collected, they were washed and then combined with seven proteins that make up myelin tissue. A chemical was used to link the proteins to the white blood cells, which were dying.
In addition to fighting germs, another important role of the immune system is to get rid of dead and dying tissues. When these tissues are collected by the spleen, it sends out a signal to the rest of the immune system that the dying tissues are just harmless waste.
The new treatment aims to take advantage of the body's waste disposal system. In attaching the myelin proteins to dying white blood cells, the idea is to get the body to also recognize those proteins as harmless and hopefully leave them alone.
In animal models of MS, the same group of researchers has shown that using this system to induce immune tolerance can stop the progression of disease.
This was the first test of this kind of therapy in humans, and although the study was too small to show whether the treatment changed the course of the disease, researchers did see some promising signs.
Blood tests taken before and after the treatment showed that the infusions turned down immune reactivity to myelin proteins, but didn't affect the immune response to potential infections, like tetanus.
"We were only trying to turn down the myelin responses, which we did," said study researcher Stephen Miller, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. "And we didn't turn down the response to tetanus. That suggests ... that this therapy, just like in mice, can induce tolerance in humans."
Patients reported mild and moderate side effects during their treatments. Nearly all these problems, except for a metallic taste in the mouth, were judged to be unrelated to the study treatment.