Posted on 27 January 2021
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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: How is it possible to vaccinate against a non-infectious disease? Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) occur when the immune system falsely recognises some of the body’s own cells as an external threat. Special T cells called T regulatory cells are able to suppress ‘self-reactive’ immune cells that are activated in error. In the same way that vaccines can prime immune cells to recognise a pathogen, they could also prime T regulatory cells to suppress self-reactive T cells.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers at BioNTech (of COVID vaccine fame) and at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz tested a potential MS vaccine in mice. The vaccine consisted of mRNA coding for self antigens which are targeted in MS, wrapped in a lipid nanoparticle similar to that used in the mRNA vaccine against COVID-19.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: The vaccine was able to significantly reduce clinical signs of MS in several different mouse models. In mice that received the vaccine as soon as early signs of MS started to develop, the treatment was able to prevent further disease progression. Vaccination was associated with reduced levels of self-reactive T cells and an increased T regulator cell population.
MS is far from the only autoimmune disease that may benefit from this techonology. The world’s leading cause of death, atherosclerosis, is driven in part by self-reactive T cells. One barrier to the idea of vaccinating against such diseases is that the antigens involved differ from person to person. What makes this research exciting is that mRNA vaccines can be developed very rapidly. It is therefore feasible for mRNA vaccines to be tailor-made for the antigens of individual patient.
A noninflammatory mRNA vaccine for treatment of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6525/145