Targeting auto immune disease. Scientists are sending in nanoparticles stocked with ammunition to stop the assault on the body. The tiny particles may help make a big difference for patients with MS.
Stephen Miller, PhD, auto-immune researcher, Northwestern Medicine: "When we have an auto immune disease, one small part of our immune system turns against our cells and causes damage to our cells or organs."
diabetes, that means the immune system attacks insulin-making cells in the pancreas. In multiple sclerosis, the body attacks the nerves.
Dr. Miller: "In MS, this myelin sheath is attacked by the immune system, and the nerve fiber becomes bare and it can't transmit nerve signals."
Over time, patients lose mobility and experience paralysis. Current therapies -- called immuno suppressants -- affect the entire immune system, not just the parts malfunctioning. That leaves patients vulnerable to infections, even cancer. It's a problem Northwestern Medicine researcher Stephen Miller has been trying to solve for 32 years. Now -- in his lab -- a tiny glimmer of hope.
Dr. Miller: "So these are the nanoparticles we used in our study."
Two-hundred times smaller in diameter than a human hair, they are tiny foot soldiers scientists enlist for otherwise impossible missions.
Dr. Miller: "Our immune systems are capable of recognizing millions of potential infectious agents and foreign substances."
That's why for his experiment, Dr. Miller disguised the particles as dead cells -- something the immune system isn't concerned with -- and injected them into mouse models. The particles flowed under the radar into the spleen and liver, where they unloaded an antigen that turns off the cells attacking a patient's nerves.
Dr. Miller: "We're very optimistic. Compared to all the others ways we've studied to induce tolerance in mouse systems, this works by far the best and most efficiently."
And do you think Dr. Miller is excited?
Dr. Miller: "Extremely! You can't tell?"
Human trials are still three to five years away. Dr. Miller says he needs more funding to continue the research, which he hopes to expand to include other auto immune diseases like asthma and food allergies.
If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Miller's research, check out http://millerlab.northwestern.edu/pages/overview.html