A biodegradable nanoparticle has proven capable of stealthily delivering an antigen that tricks the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin—halting a model in mice of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) that accounts for 80% of diagnoses of patients with the disease.

When the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens, then injected into the mice, the immune system stops recognizing myelin as an invader and stops attacking it. Unlike current therapies, the nanoparticles do not suppress the entire immune system in the manner of current therapies for MS, which can leave patients more vulnerable to higher rates of cancer and everyday infections.

“The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that’s delivered,” Stephen Miller, Ph.D., a corresponding author of a study of the nanoparticles, published Sunday in Nature Biotechnology, and the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement. “The holy grail is to develop a therapy that is specific to the pathological immune response, in this case the body attacking myelin.”

According to Northwestern Medicine, the nanoparticles are 500-nm diameter, and can also be applied to Type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and asthma and other airway allergies.

The nanoparticles, made from an FDA-approved substance, were developed by Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “This is a major breakthrough in nanotechnology, showing you can use it to regulate the immune system,” said Shea, also a corresponding author on the study.

[An abstract of the study can be read here: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nbt.2434.html]

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