University of Bristol researchers have discovered how to stop cells from attacking healthy body tissue in debilitating autoimmune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis), where the body’s immune system destroys its own tissue by mistake.
Scientists were able to selectively target the specific cells that cause autoimmune disease by reducing their aggression against the body’s own tissues. They were also able to convert them into cells capable of protecting against disease itself. This type of conversion has been previously applied only to allergies (“allergic desensitisation”). It was also discovered that effective treatment is achieved by gradually increasing the dose of antigenic fragment injected. And just as importantly they found the explanatory process that helped explain how effective treatment leads to conversion of aggressor into protector cells found via discovered changes in gene expression. By specifically targeting the specific aggressor cells, this immunotherapeutic approach avoids the need for the immune suppressive drugs associated with infections, development of tumours, and disruption of natural regulatory mechanisms.
This amazing breakthrough in selectively switching off immune cells and reprogramming them as protectors may well be in the near future the literal breath of life for may autoimmune sufferers. Of which there are hundreds of millions around the world, making this not only a major medical issue but a potentially hugely valuable market for a successful treatment or even germ line cure of the autoimmune malfunctions leading to these diseases, like Psoriasis, Crohns Lupus and others that blight tens of millions of lives.
Autoimmune diseases have statistically been on a stark rise for the last 3 decades and with 23.5 million people with autoimmune disease in America alone and far more globally its become a major worry for government and the medical community. Striking the women more than men, autoimmune diseases are the eighth leading cause of death among females, shortening the average patient’s lifespan by fifteen years. Not surprisingly, the economic burden is staggering: autoimmune diseases represent a yearly health-care burden of more than $120 billion, compared to the yearly health-care burden of $70 billion for direct medical costs for cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune disease affects far more patients than the 9 million Americans who have cancer and the 16 million with coronary disease. There are all kinds of explanations of this ranging from better reporting and the spread of medical facilities into third world nations, viral infections, chemical pollution and other environmental causes but as yet there is no definitive empirical explanation for the historically recent explosion of autoimmune disease.
Presented are some statistics on some of the heavier hitters in the auto immune disease ranks.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
The total estimated number of people diagnosed with MS, reported by the countries that responded, is 1, 315 579 (approximately 1.3 million) of whom approximately 630 000 are in Europe, 520 000 in the Americas, 66 000 in the Eastern Mediterranean, 56 000 in the Western Pacific, 31 500 in South-East Asia and 11 000 in Africa. What we must keep in mind is that there is no data for some of the mega countries such as Russian Federation, where the total number of people has been suggested to be quite high in anecdotal reports.
1.4 million people in the United States have SLE or some other form of Lupus which amounts to 1 in 85. An estimated 5,000,000 people worldwide have lupus and Mayo Clinic researchers report that the incidence of lupus has nearly tripled in the United States over the past four decades
Type 1 Diabetes
T1 Diabetes accounts for $14.9 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. each year, while all types of diabetes combine to account for $245 billion in annual costs. As many as three million Americans may have T1D. An estimated 41 million people world wide have T1D. Rheumatoid arthritis. The big gun of the autoimmune club RA occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the tissues that line bone joints and cartilage. The disease occurs throughout the body, although some joints may be more affected than others. RA is a common chronic disease that affects about 1% of the world population.
Estimates of the occurrence of psoriasis in different parts of the world vary from 0.1 to 3%. Thus it is estimated that around 125 million people worldwide have psoriasis. 10-30% of people with psoriasis go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating type of inflammatory joint disease.
The University of Bristols discovery via molecular medicine has, it seems, come in the nick of time with rising rates of autoimmune disease bringing misery and suffering to hundreds of millions globally. We can only hope that its promise yields, if not a cure, at least a successful treatment that stops autoimmune disease in its tracks. And with well above 250 million sufferers world wide, it may well be a pharmaceutical El Dorado for the companies which can use this discovery to fashion a successful treatment or cure.
Source paper. http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140903/ncomms5741/full/ncomms5741.html