A trojan horse, but for a good purpose. So researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine describe their new technology that promises to solve the problem of celiac disease.
It is a biodegradable nanoparticle in which the allergen is hidden, able to teach the immune system to trust, avoiding to trigger the violent inflammatory reaction that damages the patients’ small intestine. The approach is (still for a while) in the experimental phase but the first results of the clinical study – just presented at the European Gastroenterology Week in Barcelona – are exciting: people with celiac disease were able to introduce gluten into their diet without consequences .
How does it work?
For ten years the laboratory of Stephen Miller tries to perfect this technique which consists in ‘encapsulated in a shell friend the molecule (in technical jargon is called antigen or allergen) that is attacked by the immune system. By injecting the nanoparticles into the bloodstream, at first the antigen goes unnoticed and only later, that is, after the nanoparticle has been degraded by a macrophage, is it presented to the immune cells which are thus convinced of its non-dangerousness. And they tolerate his presence.
Simplistically it is as if the macrophage was your cousin who brings his friend Luigi (the allergen) into the house, the one who was frightening to you as children, telling you that yes, maybe it may seem like a nasty look but in reality it is a good person.
To treat celiac disease, nanoparticles have been loaded with gliadin , which is the main gluten antigen found in foods (especially wheat). After only one week of treatment, patients were able to introduce gluten into their diet for 14 days without consequences. Inflammatory reactions to damage to the intestine were decreased by 90% compared to those that occur in untreated patients.
Not just celiac disease
The celiac disease is an autoimmune disease a bit ‘different from the others because the trigger (gluten) is known and comes from outside the body. For this reason it was the ideal testing ground for testing the new approach. But the strategy may also be applicable to other autoimmune diseases.
“This is the first demonstration that technology works in patients,” commented Miller. “We have also shown that we can encapsulate myelin in nanoparticles to induce tolerance in multiple sclerosis models, or put a protein from pancreatic beta cells to induce tolerance for insulin-producing cells in type 1 diabetes models.“
The results obtained by this technology are so good that the company Cour Pharmaceuticals Co (co-founded by the same Miller) that developed it has obtained fast track status (one of the ways to make new drugs available as quickly as possible) by the US FDA and together with Takeda Pharmaceuticals will distribute the experimental drug exclusively for celiac disease, to then expand the application to other allergic and autoimmune conditions.