Scientists accidentally develop powerful rheumatoid arthritis vaccine

In an attempt to discover whether a particular protein is a trigger for rheumatoid arthritis, scientists with the University of Toledo accidentally discovered a vaccine against the painful autoimmune disease. The protein-based vaccine was found to generate a fast, strong, and long-lasting immune system response that offers protection from the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis, like most autoimmune diseases, is triggered via mechanisms that aren't quite understood, making it difficult to develop a way to prevent the condition. There's no known cure for the disease at this time, but the newly developed experimental vaccine may pave the way for preventative treatment.

The university's Dr. Ritu Chakravarti has studied 14-3-3 zeta, a protein, for the role it may play in immune diseases. Past research led to the exploration of this protein as a trigger behind rheumatoid arthritis, but that wasn't the case. Instead, using gene editing to remove the protein in animal models resulted in them developing severe arthritis at younger than typical ages.

Equipped with that new knowledge, the scientists behind this effort developed a vaccine based on a purified version of this protein. The vaccine triggered a rapid long-lasting immune response in animal models that offered protection against rheumatoid arthritis. Not only that, but the vaccine also caused pre-existing arthritis in animals to "totally disappear."

The scientists found that their experimental vaccine also improved bone quality, indicating that this vaccine — or one like it — may also have uses beyond rheumatoid arthritis. The team is now looking for pharmaceutical companies to partner with for toxicity and safety studies, noting that they hope to eventually start a preclinical trial for the vaccine.