Experiments suggest that multiple sclerosis, diabetes and some forms of arthritis might be controlled with pills containing special proteins that restrain attacks by misguided immune systems in the body, researchers report.
Dr. Howard L. Weiner of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, said 15 multiple sclerosis patients who took capsules of a bovine protein showed fewer symptoms of their disease after one year than did a similar group that took placebos.
The protein used in the study is an extract of myelin from cows, Weiner said. Myelin is a tissue that covers bundles of nerve cells in the body. MS is caused when misguided immune cells attack and destroy myelin.
Giving MS patients myelin apparently teaches the body to tolerate myelin and to stop the immune system attack, the researcher said.
Weiner said the finding only suggests a new therapy because there were so few patients involved in the tests. He said that further experiments will be required before the 3 technique could be generally applied to MS patients.
“We don’t want patients to think that we now have a treatment that definitely works,” Weiner said. “What it does is open up a new area of investigation that may apply to all the autoimmune diseases.”
The study was published today in the journal Science.
MS is one of several autoimmune diseases caused by misguided immune systems that attack healthy tissue Diabetes is thought to be caused when immune system kill insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Some forms of arthritis are thought to be caused when immune cells destroy tissue in joints.