A new study details the successful reprogramming of certain immune cells that could lead to treatments for autoimmune diseases like psoriasis. The work was performed by researchers with the Gladstone Institutes, and it is made possible by a ‘small-molecule drug’ that essentially converts immune cells from the type that attack the body to the type that keep things in check. It could also prove effect for treating cancers.
Immune cells are known as T cells, and they come in two varieties: regulatory, which keeps the immune system from running rogue and attacking a healthy body, and effector, which trigger the immune system into action. Autoimmune disorders are the result of a dysfunction with these cells, often resulting in the body attacking some healthy part of itself, such as causing inflamed, scaly skin in the case of psoriasis.
Immune system dysfunction can go the other way, as well, resulting from a suppression of it that causes different sorts of diseases or cancers. Because these T cells are so greatly involved in the function of the immune system and its balance, it makes sense that tweaking the presence of these cells in the body could address diseases, and that’s exactly what researchers have done for the first time ever.
Using the aforementioned drug, the potentially damaging effector cells can be reprogrammed into regulatory T cells, which would then bring the immune system under control and stop it from attacking a healthy body. It is thought that producing more regulatory T cells in the body could also keep the immune system from rejecting transplanted cells in the case of stem cell therapies.
As far as cancer is concerned, the drug could also be used to boost regulatory T cells so that the immune system can better find and attack cancer cells, the aim being to treat or prevent cancers. Future plans for this research weren’t stated, however, it is a milestone discovery that could lead to treatments for many diseases.