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Study Shows Positive Results for New MS Therapy

A phase 1 clinical trial for the first treatment to reset the immune system of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients showed the therapy was safe and dramatically reduced patients’ immune systems’ reactivity to myelin by 50 to 75 percent, according to new Northwestern Medicine® research.

In MS, the immune system attacks and destroys myelin, the insulating layer that forms around nerves in the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerve. With this destruction, electrical signals can’t be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness.

“The therapy stops autoimmune responses that are already activated and prevents the activation of new autoimmune cells,” says Stephen Miller, PhD, the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our approach leaves the function of the normal immune system intact. That’s the holy grail.”

Miller is the co-senior author of a paper on the study, which was published June 5 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The study is a collaboration between Feinberg, University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, and University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

The human trial is the translation of more than 30 years of preclinical research in Miller’s lab.

In the trial, the MS patients’ own specially processed white blood cells were used to deliver billions of myelin antigens so their immune systems would recognize them as harmless and develop tolerance.

Current therapies for MS suppress the entire immune system, making patients more susceptible to everyday infections and higher rates of cancer.

The primary aim of the study was to demonstrate the treatment’s safety and tolerability. It caused no adverse affects, nor did it reactivate the patients’ disease or affect their immunity to pathogens.

This therapy, with further testing, may be used to treat a host of other autoimmune and allergic diseases simply by switching the antigens attached to the cells. Previously published preclinical research by Miller showed the therapy’s effectiveness for type 1 diabetes and airway allergy (asthma) and peanut allergy.

The research was supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the Cumming Foundation.