New Treatment Reverse Autoimmune Diseases?
by Sophia Cariati
A new treatment has cured type 1 diabetes in mice by stopping their own killer
immune systems from turning on themselves and allowing the insulin- producing
cells of the pancreas to regenerate. The research promises to yield improved therapies
for people afflicted by this and other autoimmune diseases including Crohn's disease,
lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
"This is the first time anyone has ever been able to reverse established
diabetes and literally regrow the affected organ," said Denise Faustman,
M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, lead investigator of the study and Chair
of the Board of Directors of the Society for Women's Health Research. "This
same therapy may be feasible in humans."
The ABCs of Autoimmunity
The immune system normally springs to action when bacteria, viruses and other
unfamiliar cells invade the body. Yet in autoimmune diseases the body attacks
its own healthy tissue. For unexplained reasons, women's immune systems are
more likely than men's to turn on themselves. In fact, approximately 75% of
autoimmune disease sufferers are women.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the pancreas, leaving
the body without ample insulin to control the level of blood sugar. Uncontrolled
diabetes wreaks havoc on blood vessels and organs leaving sufferers at increased
risk for heart disease, amputations, and blindness. Type 1 diabetes usually
sets in during puberty and affects more than 500,000 Americans.
New Treatment Reverses Type 1 Diabetes
Dr. Faustman and colleagues used a two-pronged approach to halt the body's attack
on itself. First they used a naturally occurring chemical, TNF-alpha, to kill
misdirected immune cells programmed to attack the pancreas. Then, they trained
immature immune cells to correctly distinguish between self and non-self, thus
preventing future attacks.
Approximately 75% of diabetic mice that received this treatment were effectively
cured of diabetes long after the therapy was discontinued. After more than three
months, the researchers examined the pancreases. They found "beautiful,
functional" pancreatic cells in place of a defunct organ.
Dr. Faustman theorizes that killing off renegade immune cells and thus providing
a nurturing environment for damaged organs to regrow may similarly eliminate
many other autoimmune diseases. She emphasizes, however, that researchers are
a long way from determining whether the laboratory findings can translate into
new treatments for humans. The study was funded by a grant from the Iacocca
The Society for
Women's Health Research is the only not-for-profit organization whose
sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in
1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex
differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease,
and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica
Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its
Board of Directors.
For more information on clinical research, click here.
Created: 5/13/2002  - Sophia Cariati