A team of researchers have found a potential treatment for chronic inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and diabetes. The new treatment eliminates the inflammation without compromising the immune system. The findings are in a paper just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Pathological inflammation arises when the body’s immune system responds to pathogens, damaged cell debris, and other irritants. This inflammation becomes chronic in certain diseases, including lupus. Current treatments focus on minimizing the body’s immune response. This can cause further problems, however, since a reduced immune system response leaves patients more vulnerable to infections.
Dead and damaged cells due to disease trigger constant immune responses and are the cause of most chronic inflammation. The research team wondered whether or not there was a way to control this problem at the source. They used nucleic acid-binding polymers, molecules that naturally bind to DNA and RNA. The polymers were attracted to the DNA and RNA of dead and dying cells, effectively cleaning them up. This stopped the immune response in mice, reducing or even eliminating inflammation.
The researchers wanted to be sure that the treatment didn’t result in vulnerability to infections. After treating the mice with the special polymers, the team exposed them to the influenza virus. Interestingly, the mice had no problems recovering from the flu. The group treated with the polymers actually healed faster than the healthy control group.
The research team found that nucleic acid-binding polymers can be used to clean up debris from damaged and dead cells. This simple method could be used to stop inflammation caused by diseases such as lupus, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Importantly, this new treatment doesn’t compromise the patients’ ability to fight off infections. Mice treated with the polymers had no problems recovering from the influenza virus and actually healed better than the control group. The team is already investigating how the treatment affects other animal models.
Eda K. Holl et al. Scavenging nucleic acid debris to combat autoimmunity and infectious disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016).