Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a rather common autoimmune disease that affects between 2 and 150 people out of every 100,000. A cure may be a long way off, but researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago used nanotechnology to develop a potential future treatment method that could stop the disease's progression.
With multiple sclerosis, the body's immune system starts attacking the insulating coating layer of nerve fibers called myelin. This nerve damage can result in numbness, involuntary movements, paralysis, and blindness, among other problems.
According to Northwestern, many current treatments for MS rely on suppressing the immune system, which, as you might expect, can cause all sorts of other problems. To avoid this, the Northwestern team put nanotech to work. The resulting nanoparticles, which are conveniently made out of an already FDA-approved substance, are loaded with a myelin antigen, and injected into the body, whereby they are swallowed by white blood cells in the spleen. After a while, this should cause the body to develop a tolerance for myelin, and stop attacking it altogether.
As Northwestern put it:
The Northwestern nanotechnology does not suppress the entire immune system as do current therapies for MS, which make patients more susceptible to everyday infections and higher rates of cancer. Rather, when the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens and injected into the mice, the immune system is reset to normal. The immune system stops recognizing myelin as an alien invader and halts its attack on it.
This new method is relatively inexpensive, the researchers say, since the nanoparticles are easy to produce and are made of natural metabolites in the human body. They could also be used to treat other autoimmune diseases by a simple switch of the antigen. One day, nanoparticles could help treat type I diabetes, different food allergies, and even asthma, according to Northwestern.
Of course, this is nowhere near a sure thing, but I am very excited about this new development, having a close family member suffering from MS. If you're into biology and want to understand the more technical side of this method, you can read the full release from Northwestern University .
This story, "Northwestern University uses nanotech to develop a potential treatment method for MS" was originally published by TechHive.