Researchers Rewire Immune System to Treat MS, Type 1 Diabetes, Other Autoimmune Diseases

Researchers Rewire Immune System to Treat MS, Type 1 Diabetes, Other Autoimmune Diseases

Two Boston-based researchers have managed to re-train the immune system to ignore antigens that trigger an autoimmune reaction, alleviating symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and type 1 diabetes in a mouse model.

Their study, Engineered erythrocytes covalently linked to antigenic peptides can protect against autoimmune disease,” appeared in a leading medical journal, Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers, Hidde Ploegh of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvey Lodish of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, attached pieces of disease-specific proteins to red blood cells and then transferred these cells back into a mouse model of MS. The pieces of protein led to what is called the induction of tolerance, in which the immune system is “taught” to ignore antigens that could otherwise trigger an inappropriate response.

“Essentially what we’re doing is hijacking the red blood cell clearance pathway, such that the foreign antigen masquerades as the red blood cells’ own, such that these antigens are being tolerated in the process,” graduate student Novalia Pishesha said in a press release. This strategy reduced MS and type 1 diabetes symptoms in the mice. Importantly, even a single injection before disease onset could produce similar results and prevent the development of further symptoms.

The researchers explained that red blood cells are particularly well-suited to carry molecules to different parts of the body because they can quickly access almost all tissues. Moreover, they are quickly recycled — every month in mice and every four months in humans — without triggering an immune response.

“This is a very promising step in the development of therapies for autoimmune diseases,” said Lodish, a biological engineering professor at MIT. “If this type of response is also true in humans, then it could make a lot of these therapies possible for these diseases and similar conditions.”

Autoimmune diseases develop when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells. Some 23 million Americans  are believed to have autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes and MS. 


  1. Tracey Bennett says:

    I’ve had Type 1 diabetes since age 12. I was formally notified I had RRMS when I was 48, but I knew I had it much longer. My PCP claimed that my MS symptoms were actually from my diabetes!
    Beyond that, I have asked several doctors if there was any relationship between the diabetes and MS as they’re both autoimmune disorders. I’m so glad to see this study being done. By the way, the doctors said they didn’t know.
    Just goes to prove that you know your body best!

  2. Lisa Scroggins says:

    My comment is to multiplesclerosisnewstoday. I subscribe and greatly appreciate the service. But every time I click to read an article, a screen pops up inviting me to join the mailing list. In fact, this morning, while reading today’s posts, I’ve been “encouraged” to join the list 4 separate times. Could you please tweak your website and dial it back? It really takes away from an otherwise fairly solid source of information, to the point that I’ve already limited my views to no more than once a week. Thank you,

    • Rebecca Welsh says:

      Me too, Lisa Scroggins! I have messaged MS news today to let them know that whatever recent changes they’ve made to the website are really annoying, but you said it much more tactfully here. I hope they read these comments and messages and make some changes to like you said, “dial it back.” After trying to read several articles from my phone recently, I just gave up on the website. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to lose readership!

  3. Patti Wagner says:

    I am interested in the work you are doing on rewiring the immune system. I have MS and would be interested in participating in a clinical study on this procedure. Please contact me if you plan to do trials.

    • Eric Woodard says:

      Does this treatment work for people with MS already or is something you do before the first sign of symptoms and does it work for people with progressive MS

  4. Crystal says:

    Would this procedure work for CIDP (Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy)?
    Any information would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

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