.GIFT15: A "cure" for multiple sclerosis?
Wednesday August 26, 2009
Trust me, I would love nothing more than to tell you all, "Hallelujah! This is IT! The cure is here!" And maybe I will be able to write those words someday, maybe even someday soon. But I can't do it quite yet. Don't get me wrong, GIFT15 is exciting, cutting-edge stuff, full of possibilities and definitely something we should all keep an eye on.
Let's take a look at what we have with GIFT15:
From what I can tell, this approach is similar to some of the experimental MS vaccine candidates that I wrote about, in that it is using components of a person's own immune system to stop the damage caused by MS and the process behind the disease. What the researchers are doing is:
1) Giving mice experimental autoimmune encephalomeylitis, which is the animal "equivalent" of MS. This is the standard way that most animal trials of MS treatment or investigations into causes of MS is conducted.
2) They then are isolating some immune cells from these mice, namely B cells, and putting them in a petri dish.
3) The researchers proceed to "sprinkle" this funky new protein, GIFT15, on these like fairy dust. They made GIFT15 in the laboratory by fusing GSM-CSF and interleukin-15, two proteins that usually act in the immune system to stimulate activity (it is unclear to me if these proteins were also derived from the individual mice and used only on their B cells, or if the GIFT15 is not as specific to the individual as the actual B cells, which I think is the case) . Interestingly, when these proteins are fused together in the lab, they are shown to have the opposite effect on the B cells that they come into contact with and "downregulate" their activity, kind of like a natural immunosuppressant.
4) The researchers then stuck the new GIFT15Breg cells back into the same mice that they came from, and voila! all signs of MS (well, EAE, to be precise) disappeared as these new cells went to work "calming down" the immune system. Remember, MS is an autoimmune disorder, which means a person's own immune cells are attacking his or her body, namely the myelin surrounding the nerve structures. Which exact cells are doing this damage is still a matter of great (and lengthy) debate.
There you have it. Exciting stuff! However let's remember that mice are not humans and EAE is not multiple sclerosis. It doesn't always act the same. Just think about it - if there are 4 different types of MS and each one of us experience MS differently, with different symptoms and severity, it doesn't compute that something that worked in a couple of mice would work in all people with MS. Again, it is all exciting, and we will keep an eye on GIFT15 as it progresses through the research process.
I'll admit it, the science involved in this experiment stretches (okay, exceeds) my grasp of the specifics of immunology. If you are interested in going in deeper, here is the link to the abstract: A granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor and interleukin-15 fusokine induces a regulatory B cell population with immune suppressive properties.