MAR 07, 2017 10:09 AM PST

Red Blood Cells Equipped to Carry Autoimmune Disease Treatments

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Researchers are “hijacking” red blood cells because of their ability to flow freely in and out of nearly all types of body tissues without being noticed by the immune system. By attaching proteins to the red blood cell surface, a team from the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research developed a new technique for desensitizing the immune system.

Red blood cells are the most common type of blood cell.

Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), and type 1 diabetes occur because of the immune system’s reaction to certain proteins as if they were foreign antigens, substances produced by pathogens that stimulate an immune response. However, in a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers worked with red blood cells to suppress the immune response to these harmless proteins.

"Essentially what we're doing is hijacking the red blood cell clearance pathway, such that the foreign antigen masquerades as the red blood cells' own, such that these antigens are being tolerated in the process," explained MIT graduate student Novalia Pishesha.

Immunosuppressants are the typical option used to treat autoimmune diseases, which the National Institutes of Health estimate influence the lives of more than 23 million Americans. Immunosuppressants successfully regulate the immune response but also make an individual especially prone to infections. The new approach presents a new way to avoid the infection vulnerability: tolerance induction.

Tolerance induction involves taking peptides from antigens as a way to “retrain” the immune system to know when and when not to react. However, delivering the antigenic peptides to where they need to go without being attacked by the immune system poses a serious problem.

Scientists from the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research, during their study of red blood cells as potential vessels for carrying antigenic peptides, quickly saw the benefits of using these cells to carry immune-sensitizing proteins. Red blood cells regularly access nearly every type of tissue in the body, and they are recycled regularly without triggering an immune response against them.

Previous research from the same group involved tagging red blood cells with biotin, a B vitamin, and antibodies, via a technique called “sortagging.” Their present study involved early stage mouse models of autoimmune disease. They paired a sample of blood cells with antigens that prompt MS and type 1 diabetes and then transfused the cells back into the mice models. The process takes less than an hour, and researchers saw an immediate reduction in disease symptoms and prevention of further symptoms.

"If this type of response is also true in humans, then it could make a lot of these therapies possible for these diseases and similar conditions,” said MIT Professor Harvey Lodish.

Source: Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog:
You May Also Like
AUG 06, 2019
AUG 06, 2019
Lab Mice Born to Moms From the Wild Make Better Research Models
A standard research mouse genotype was preserved while generating a natural microbiome by using wild mice as surrogates....
SEP 11, 2019
SEP 11, 2019
Better Sleep, Brought To You By Exercise
Regular difficulty falling or staying asleep, called chronic insomnia, is the most common sleep disorder among adults. In the search for better, more restf...
SEP 14, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
SEP 14, 2019
DNA Construction Kit Could Drive Down Costs of Immune Therapy
Researchers at KU Leuven in Belgium have created a DNA construction kit that, when injected into muscle cells, enables sheep to produce new antibodies to f...
OCT 08, 2019
OCT 08, 2019
Circadian Rhythm Governs Immune Protection of the Gut
The circadian rhythm governs more than just waking and sleeping. The intricate functions of the digestive system rely on the ticking, clock-like rhythm as ...
FEB 06, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
FEB 06, 2020
Potential Cure for Coronavirus Found in Thailand
Doctors in Thailand have successfully treated people affected by the coronavirus via a new drug cocktail made out of antiviral, flu and HIV medication. Alt...
FEB 14, 2020
FEB 14, 2020
Rewired natural killer cells show promising results in leukemia patients
Natural killer (NK) cells are a subset of white blood cells that are key players in the innate immune system, orchestrating host-rejection responses agains...
Loading Comments...