Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a breakthrough vaccine-style rheumatoid arthritis treatment targeting the underlying cause of the disease rather than the symptoms.
Lead researcher Professor Ranjeny Thomas from UQ Diamantina Institute said the treatment worked by teaching the patient’s immune system to ignore a peptide it wrongly deemed to be a foreign enemy.
“It’s rather re-educating the immune system so that instead of responding to that enemy to actually stop responding or to make a counter regulatory peace-making effort against the enemy so that things will quieten down,” she said.
Researchers designed the treatment for people with the most common form of rheumatoid arthritis called CCP-positive.
In the first phase human trials they took a sample of patients’ blood, added an anti-inflammatory and the “foreign” peptide, then re-injected the modified cells back into the patient.
Professor Thomas said inflammation was noticeably reduced.
The results showing the treatment to be safe and effective have been published today in the influential journal Science Translational Medicine.
“It’s significant because it really is a new way of thinking about how to treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and it will have applications for other diseases as well which is similar like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis.”
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Professor Thomas said researchers were developing a ready-made vaccine to inject directly into patients.
“The way that we’ve published it in the trial is not something that is necessarily easy to take forward because it involves taking cells out, modifying them, putting them back,” she said.
“So we’ve also been working on a technology that involves doing this in a more practical way for patients and a more cost-effective way.