Saturday, June 18, 2011

New treatment halts Multiple Sclerosis
Professor Tom Burris

Scripps Florida investigators have found a way to stop multiple sclerosis in mice.

Dr. Tom Burris, a professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics, led the team that developed a compound that stops MS by shutting down a type of white blood cell called TH17. This cell malfunctions in patients with MS and other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

When scientists blocked TH17 signals in mice cells, the symptoms of MS disappeared. It was unclear whether the treatment is a cure or simply stalls the disease, according to Dr. Burris.

If the new treatment works in humans, it would have a couple of advantages over existing MS drugs. It could be taken as a pill rather than injected, and the compound would attack only TH17 cells, sparing other disease-killing cells.

"In these autoimmune diseases, the body is tricked into attacking itself," Dr. Burris said. "Right now, the treatments that are out there suppress the entire immune system, and that comes with a lot of side effects."

The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation estimates that 400,000 Americans have MS, which prevents nerve cells in the brain and spine from communicating. It is most commonly diagnosed in women between the ages of 20 and 40.

The new treatment is so promising that it is garnering interest from drug companies.

"We have a lot of interest from biotech and pharma companies, and we're trying to strike a deal with someone," Dr. Burris said. He said Scripps Florida could license the treatment to one of those companies within a few months.

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