Japanese researchers have discovered a chemical compound that could finally make the treatment of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis possible. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system cannot differentiate between the body’s own cells and foreign invading cells, resulting in more than 80 diseases that damage various parts of the body. Common symptoms of autoimmune conditions include joint pain and swelling, swollen glands, skin problems, fatigue and recurring fever.
There is currently no cure for autoimmune diseases, but physicians can deploy a variety of treatments to reduce symptoms and mitigate damage to organs. However, the recent discovery by the Japanese researchers may finally grant physicians a way to truly treat the millions of people living with autoimmune diseases.
Associate professor Hiroki Ishikawa, head of the Immune Signal Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), notes that while the key to inhibiting the development of autoimmune disorders lies within our cells, we still don’t understand the mechanisms behind their development. Ishikawa said that recent research has pointed to a compound that could inhibit the development of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The researchers focused their attention on Th17 cells, which are charged with killing invasive pathogens but can sometimes mistake normal tissue for pathogens and cause autoimmunity. The majority of these cells reside within the gut, and their development relies on a metabolic process called glycolysis, which breaks down glucose and converts it into energy to support the growth of Th17 cells.
Tsung-Yen Huang, study author and PhD candidate at the Immune Signal Unit, explained that since excessive glycolysis “seems to suppress Th17 cell activity,” the researchers hypothesized that certain metabolites (molecules that are produced during glycolysis) may be able to suppress Th17 cells.
Phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) was the prime candidate. It is a byproduct of glycolysis and is generated every day in the human body as glucose is converted into energy. The researchers discovered that PEP treatment can prevent Th17 cells from maturing and mitigate the body’s inflammatory response to perceived threats.
Further research into the activity of such metabolites led the researchers to a protein called JunB that binds to specific genes to promote Th17 maturation. After treating mice suffering from autoimmunity and neuroinflammation with PEP, the researchers noted “positive signs of recovery,” suggesting that PEP could be able to treat autoimmune disorders. Huang said that while the results indicated the clinical potential of PEP, they would need to raise its efficiency. The researchers have filed a patent to continue research on the potential of PEP against autoimmune diseases.
Meanwhile, other companies such as Aditxt Inc. (NASDAQ: ADTX) are also looking to develop mechanisms through which the immune system can be preprogrammed so that the progress of autoimmune disorders can reversed or at least halted.
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