Researchers in Australia have discovered that a simple injection could help regulate the body’s natural immune response. This potential new treatment offers hope for the simple and effective management of auto-immune diseases. The study is published in the journal Blood.

A persons immune system protects them from disease and infection. However, in individuals with an auto-immune disease, their immune system causes the body to attack itself.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr Suzanne Hodgkinson. From UNSW’s Faculty of Medicine and Liverpool Hospital, notes that unlike most current studies, which focus on preventing “bad” or “effector” cells, the new approach in this study involves increasing good regulating cells in the body.

The team injected cell-signaling proteins called cytokines, in particular cytokine Interleukin-5 (II-5 cytokine), in order to induce the body’s T-cell front-line defenses.

When T-regulatory cells are created to be specific to a particular protein they develop receptors for the Il-5 cytokine. This increase from the Il-5 cytokine enables the immune system to control its response to disease more effectively without causing the immune system to go into overdrive.

The researchers injected cloned II-5 cytokine into rats with Guillain-“Barré syndrome – a neurological condition. They found that the rodents recovered considerably faster, and did not fall ill if treated as a precaution. Furthermore, the injection may also be helpful in animals with multiple sclerosis, those with kidney disease nephritis, as well as in animals whose bodies have rejected organ transplantation.

Dr. Hodgkinson explained:

“One of the nice things about this discovery is that it is one of the few treatments in the auto-immune world and in the transplantation world that works not by attacking the effector cells, but by increasing the good regulating cells. So it works in a very different way from almost every other treatment we’ve got available.”

The researchers highlight that the new injection could be more appealing than inoculation by parasitic worms – an alternative method in regulating auto-immune conditions.

Studies have demonstrated that consuming helminths parasites can control the immune system and increase T-cell production to fight illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. In the developed world there has been a significant increase in auto-immune diseases and this may be due to the absence of the worms in guts in these nations.

Dr Hodgkinson said:

“The process we’ve developed may be the same process that the helminths kick off. When you get a helminths infestation, one of the changes in your immune response is an increase in cells called eosinophils and these cells make the cytokine Interleukin-5.

In this new treatment, it’s a matter of injecting the interleukin-5 and the body does the rest. It’s both safe and effective and we think inducing the immune response by injection may be more attractive to people than swallowing parasitic worms.”

According to Dr Hodgkinson, clinical trials could be conducted within the next two to five years.

Written By Grace Rattue