One of the toughest challenges in halting or reversing the autoimmune process that destroys beta cells and causes type 1 diabetes is doing so in a way that does not compromise a person’s entire immune system. Antigen-specific immune therapy research, which targets only a specific part of the immune system, is a key part of JDRF’s strategy to cure T1D. Results from a recent study involving an animal model of multiple sclerosis have confirmed that using nanoparticles may represent an exciting and relatively new approach to antigen-specific immune therapies that could help stop the autoimmune process for people with various autoimmune diseases, including T1D.
The research by Dr. Stephen Miller and his colleagues at Northwestern University involves the use of a nanoparticle-based immune therapy as a treatment for the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS). In this research, the investigators used biodegradable nanoparticles containing MS-related antigen components to reset the immune system balance and create immune tolerance in an animal model of MS. JDRF provided partial support for this work because of its relevance to T1D immune therapies.
The use of nanoparticles – very small packages as a way to deliver components that trigger the immune system – appears to have the ability to effectively mimic the natural immune system tolerance processes. Such nanoparticles allow the delivery of multiple important triggers of immune tolerance, should minimize side effects by being more specific to T1D, and allow better control of the production of the particles to specifically modify the immune response. While this research has so far only been conducted in mice, if successfully applied to humans, it could provide a potential pathway to controlling the autoimmunity that underlies T1D.
JDRF has been at the forefront of driving research using nanoparticles to benefit people with T1D. In addition to branching out and funding Dr. Miller’s study on MS because of its relevance to T1D, JDRF has a robust portfolio of other promising research it is funding in this area. JDRF’s recent and current funding commitments to research involving nanoparticles total over $6 million.
Included in this research are other studies by Dr. Miller that specifically focus on T1D. In this research, Dr. Miller is attempting to use nanoparticles to help achieve immune tolerance for transplanted insulin-producing islet cells. Another JDRF-funded study in this area that has received attention is one conducted by Dr. Pere Santamaria at the University of Calgary, using nanoparticles to restore the balance among the T cells and stop the autoimmune process in T1D. His work involves assembling triggers of the immune system onto a nanoparticle, including specific T1D antigens. It has shown that protective T cells still exist in T1D, but just not enough of them to properly control the autoimmune process. By dosing mice with his nanoparticles, Dr. Santamaria has been able to increase the numbers of the protective T cells resulting in a rebalancing of the T cells and halting the autoimmune process.
In addition to the research led by Dr. Miller and Dr. Santamaria, JDRF’s nanoparticle portfolio includes an industry partnership with Selecta Biosciences as well as studies being conducted by Dr. Eric Bachelder at Ohio State University, Dr. Nick Giannoukakis at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Teresa DiLorenzo at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Francisco Quintana at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and others.