Researchers Uncover Promising Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

By fusing a cytokine to a blood protein, researchers hope to devise a way to prevent destructive immune cells from infiltrating the central nervous system.

By Rachel Wan, News Editor

Researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering broke new ground in research for a treatment for multiple sclerosis (M.S.), a disease that damages the central nervous system. Though treatments for M.S. currently exist, researchers are still actively searching for ways that will treat the disease more effectively. 

Results, published on October 12 in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, could potentially reap great benefits to patients suffering from M.S., which is estimated to affect 400,000 people in the United States alone. 

The research, led by Jeffrey Hubbell, the Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and deputy dean for development, devised a way to reduce the migration of cells that can lead to the disease by fusing a cytokine, a small protein secreted by the immune system, to a blood protein. With preliminary testing on mice, this fusion prevented destructive immune cells from infiltrating the central nervous system, effectively decreasing the number of cells that are involved in the development of M.S.. 

Hubbell said that the biggest challenge in the research process was working on the immunology of the disease in the mouse model. “We were not simply measuring clinical disease in the mouse model, but also very carefully characterizing immune responses in these experimental animals, to understand just exactly how and to what extent we were able to re-balance immunity,” he said. “Most biological drugs for M.S. seek to block a bad actor…Rather than blocking a bad actor, we sought to provide a positive actor, one that could re-balance immunity more toward tolerance and thus ease the pathology of the disease.” 

Hubbell said the team had to work much harder on the immunology of the disease in the mouse model due to this new approach. “The first quarter of our research was in coming up with the molecular engineering approach and making the molecules, but the next three quarters were diving very deep into immunology to understand the effects and implications,” Hubbell said. 

Researchers will formally study the toxicity of the therapy with hopes of moving to human clinical trials. If successful, the treatment could potentially be self-administered by patients using an injector pen. Hubbell’s research shows that symptoms of M.S. could also be suppressed more effectively than current treatments. 

“This could lead to better quality of life, with fewer symptoms, for those with the disease,” Hubbell said.