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MS Type Disease Healed in Mice using Genetically Engineered Blood Cells

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Mice given genetically engineered blood cells healed from MS-like disease

Researchers have used genetically engineered white blood cells that boost immunity in mice infected with a disease that is similar to MS. The finding could mean a new treatment for multiple sclerosis.

The neurological disease is progressive. There are 4 types of MS. The most common is Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS), which affects approximately 85 percent of people diagnosed with the disease.

Treatment of multiple sclerosis includes medications to slow the disease. There is presently no cure. Early diagnosis and intervention lead to better outcomes.

Scientists at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; led by Dr. Michael Carrithers, assistant professor of neurology engineered a type of white blood cells known as a macrophage that ‘eats’ viruses, bacteria and damaged tissues when an insult to the body occurs.

The researchers added a human gene to the macrophage to create a more enhanced immune fighting cell with a sodium channel that expresses a substance called NaVI.5.

Lesions destroy the myelin sheath to cause symptoms of the disease were repaired in mice treated with NaVI.5.

Mice used in the experiment had developed experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, which is the mouse version of MS.

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"This finding was unexpected because we weren't sure how much damage they would do, versus how much cleaning up they would do,'' Carrithers said in a press release. “Some people thought the mice would get more ill, but we found that it protected them and they either had no disease or a very mild case."

Macrophages can have the opposite effect, the researchers explain, because they are also part of the autoimmune response that damages myelin that covers and protects nerves in people with MS.

The researchers also found in follow-up experiments mice paralyzed from the MS-like disease that did not express the NaVI.5 gene regained the ability to walk after being treated with the genetically engineered white blood cells.

Those treated with placebo or regular mouse macrophages either failed to improve or became progressively worse.

The study is published in the June. 2013 issue of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.

Carrithers says questions remain about how to enhance repair mechanisms in people with MS and why they are deficient, given that the NaV1.5 variation is already present in human immune cells.

The goal, he says, is to develop the NaV1.5 enhanced macrophages as a treatment for people with MS.

Image credit: Morguefile