New Anti-Inflammatory Agents Slow Down Overactive Immune Response

Researchers from the Duke University Medical Center report of finding a new means to fight inflammation that leads to an overactive immune response with the use of polymer molecules. This discovery offers a new focus of potential treatment for inflammatory diseases associated with an overactive immune system such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. The discovery is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

The Duke University researchers used molecules called polymers in order to clean up debris coming from damaged cells before such cells trigger the immune system to become abnormally active which can lead to the development of certain auto-immune diseases like MS. According to Bruce A. Sullenger, Ph.D., director of the duke Translational Research Institute and senior author of the study, “Depending on the disease, cells that are damaged drive or perpetuate the immune response. We have shown that we can inhibit that process.”

The new approach came from earlier findings by Duke researchers as well as others that dying and damaged cells spill nucleic acid that then circulate in high levels in the bloodstream. Nucleic acid are considered as the building blocks of life that include DNA and RNA. They regulate many important functions while inside the cell.

But when nucleic acid are found outside the cells when damaged, they become powerful triggers to the immune system, indicating that something might be wrong. This causes the immune system to launch an attack to fight whatever might be causing the cell damage. Under normal circumstances, this type of response usually restores order.

But when the immune system in this case becomes overactive, it can result in tissue damage as well as inflammation, as seen in diseases such as lupus, MS, arthritis, psoriasis and other similar immune system related conditions. The researchers at Duke University focused on a set of molecules called nucleic acid binding polymers that can bind into nucleic acid that is spilled into the bloodstream by damaged cells. It was considered as a mop-up approach that worked in experiments using mice. “We could use the polymers as molecular scavengers – sponges to go around and soak up and neutralize those inflammatory nucleic acids so the immune system doesn’t recognize them and go into the overdrive of inflammation,” added Sullenger.


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