BY NATASSIA GERRARD, NOCAMELS · JANUARY 24, 2012: Autoimmune diseases, such as Chrohn’s disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, or even allergies, are one of the trickiest in the medical world because they occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks itself, causing damage to the entire body.
Israeli scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science think they have made progress what could be significant progress in the treatment of autoimmune diseases by developing a vaccine.
Traditional treatment for patients with such diseases generally involves taking anti-inflammatory drugs along with immune suppressants. However, these drugs come with serious side effects, and can even increase the risk of patients developing an infection.
Tested on mice, the research team developed a new vaccine that tricks the immune systems into attacking one of the players in the autoimmune processes – an enzyme known as MMP9. When working properly, this enzyme plays an important role in mobilizing cells and healing wounds. However, when the MMP-9 dysfunctions it can “aid and abet” autoimmune diseases as well as cancer metastasis.
The vaccine developed by the researchers uses a smart synthetic molecule that artificially mimics the functional metal site at the heart of the MMP enzyme. This molecule, in turn, tricks the immune system into creating antibodies named “metallobodies” that block the enzyme at its active site.
Head of the research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Professor Irit Sagi, told NoCamels: “An antibody is a protein produced by the body’s immune system. Each antibody can bind to a specific antigen, or target; an interaction similar to a ‘lock and key’”. According to Sagi, “just as immunization with a killed virus induces the immune system to create antibodies that attack live viruses, an MMP immunization in theory could create antibodies that block the MMP-9 enzyme and help combat the disease.”
When mice during the research were treated with metallobodies, it significantly prevented various symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases, including diarrhea, weight loss and tissue destruction. According to Professor Sagi, “metallobidies treatment was effective in both preventative and therapeutic mode of application.”
Sagi believes that the effects of this vaccine can work better than current treatment methods. “Our antibodies will mimic the natural protective process in vivo,” she says. “In this respect, the new drug may be more efficient than other therapeutics such as steroids.”
At present, however, the researchers cannot predict which side effects can arise from using this vaccine on humans, so further research must be conducted.
“Yeda”, the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute, has applied for a patent for the synthetic immunization molecules as well as the generated metallobodies. According to Sagi, this treatment will be available to the public in the next five to eight years, pending the next stage of drug development. She hopes that the future of this vaccine technology is to “target various metal dependent enzymes that play important roles in different diseases.”
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