A fascinating new study out of McGill University in Montreal suggests that multiple sclerosis may be reversed with a treatment that involves tweaking the B cells of the immune system and turning them into immune suppressive cells. Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system essentially attacks the nervous system, killing off myelin, the crucial insulating sheath around axons which allows the cells to communicate with one another effectively. This demyelination leads to the motor and cognitive deficits associated with multiple sclerosis.
[T]he treatment is not complicated – it’s just a matter of collecting B cells, treating them with GIFT15, and injecting them back into the patient.
The treatment that Jacques Galipeau and his team designed involves fusing two proteins, GSM−CSF and Interleukin−15, which, separately, are immune system activators. But when fused, the pair, dubbed GIFT15, actually suppresses the immune system. Galipeau describes the fusion by saying, “[y]ou know those mythical animals that have the head of an eagle and the body of a lion? They’re called chimeras. In a lyrical sense, that’s what we’ve created.”
When the hybrid GIFT15 is applied to the body’s own B cells in vitro, it turns them into cells that suppress the immune system. “GIFT15 can take your normal, run−of−the−mill B−cells and convert them — in a Superman or Jekyll −Hyde sort of way — into these super−powerful B−regulatory cells. We can do that in a petri dish. We took normal B−cells from mice, and sprinkled GIFT15 on them, which led to this Jekyll and Hyde effect.
Galipeau says that there were no significant side effects associated with the treatment, but that clearly more research will need to be done to determine its safety and whether it works in humans. He underlines that the treatment is not complicated – it’s just a matter of collecting B cells, treating them with GIFT15, and injecting them back into the patient. “That’s what we did in mice, and that’s what we believe we could do in people,” says Galipeau.
The study was published in the August 9, 2009 online edition of Nature Medicine.