Autoimmune diseases affect about 1 in 20 people in Australia, with the most common diseases being multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

Steph Nash

In a breakthrough of medical technology, a team of scientists at the University of Bristol (UOB) have discovered a way of ‘switching-off’ cells that cause autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases are a group of chronic inflammatory conditions that are caused by immune system response against the body’s own tissues. In this case, the body’s own natural antigens are targeted by antibodies in the immune system, causing the body to essentially fight itself.

Until recently, there have only been methods to ease the symptoms of autoimmune disease. This process is called immunotherapy, which works to make the body more tolerant to these self-antigens. The team at the UOB have discovered a method of immunotherapy that releases certain blood cells to dampen down the body’s autoimmune response. This therapy uses intranasal administration of special compounds to selectively control substances released by the immune system.

During immune response, special blood cells called CD4 T-cells release chemicals into the body to fight disease. For the average person, these CD4 T-cells work protectively to fight antigens. For someone with autoimmunity, however, these special T-cells work aggressively, targeting more than just foreign antigens in the body. UOB’s new method of immunotherapy works to pacify CD4 T-cells, which can potentially stop autoimmune disease, and regulate immune response.

Dr David Wraith, one of the brains behind this medical discovery from the University of Bristol, describes his team’s method of intranasal immunotherapy as a game-changer for sufferers of autoimmune diseases.

There are over 90 different diseases that are said to be autoimmune,” he said. “Our therapeutic approach is applicable to any disease for which we know the antigens that the immune system targets in order to drive disease.”

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which affects around 120, 000 Australians. Everyday, two or more Australian children develop type 1 diabetes, making it one of the most prevalent children’s diseases in the country. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is another very serious autoimmune disease in Australia, with over 23, 000 affected. MS is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system.

If you thought that the ‘reversal’ of autoimmune diseases was all this technology could do, then think again. Wraith and his team’s method of immunotherapy can also help to suppress allergic diseases. Common alllergic diseases include asthma, hay fever and eczema.

Allergic disease are currently treated by so-called ‘desensitization’,” Wraith said. “This is effective, but carries certain risks. Peptide immunotherapy should be a much safer approach.”