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Hope for arthritis vaccine

Scientists in Newcastle are aiming to develop a new vaccine which could suppress the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, using patients' own blood cells.

John Isaacs, Professor of Clinical Rheumatology at Newcastle University's Musculoskeletal Research Group, who is leading the team, said that although the work was in a very early, experimental stage it was “hugely exciting” and if successful, could signal a major breakthrough in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Although a similar technique has been used in cancer research, this is the first time it has been adapted to rheumatoid arthritis.

In healthy people the immune system protects the body by fighting infection, but in auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis it attacks body tissue, causing inflammation.

The body's immune responses are co-ordinated by so-called dendritic cells. While mature dendritic cells are responsible for activating the immune system, another type, called tolerogenic dendritic cells, are believed to suppress immune system activity.

Now the team has devised a way to chemically manipulate a patient's own white blood cells such that they develop into tolerogenic dendritic cells, using chemicals, steroids and vitamin D, before injecting them back into the patient's knee in the form of a vaccine.

“Based on previous laboratory research we would expect that this will specifically suppress or down regulate the auto-immune response,” explained Professor Isaacs. Cell biopsies will be taken two weeks after the injection to establish whether it has induced the expected response.

They also hope to find out if the vaccine is effective only in the injected joints, or whether it is disseminated throughout the body through the lymph nodes.

Newcastle University