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Researchers report using novel mRNA “vaccine” to treat mice with MS-like disease – further research needed to translate to people

January 13, 2021

Investigators at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, and colleagues have reported success in reducing inflammation and disease activity in mouse models of MS by injecting messenger RNA that had been manipulated to deliver to the immune system the codes of molecular targets thought to be involved in the development of MS.
  • The goal is to induce immune tolerance to the targets (“antigens”) – in this case components of the protective myelin coating that is damaged by immune attacks in MS – without compromising normal protective immune responses.
  • The researchers delivered a modified messenger RNA, containing the code for part of a myelin component, to the mice after the MS-like disease EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis) had begun. They reported less severe disease than would normally occur.
  • Analysis of immune system activity indicated reduced inflammation and an uptick of regulatory cells capable of tamping down immune attacks specific to myelin. Importantly, they also found that the immune response to a non-myelin target was unchanged.
  • Various forms of mRNA are being explored as therapies for diseases in humans. These researchers hope that delivering coded instructions for myelin antigens using their modified mRNA will increase chances of success and lead to a future new therapy for people with MS that may spare the beneficial activities of the immune system while stopping MS-specific immune activity.
Comment: There is considerable interest in this study because it uses similar technology to the Pfizer-BioNT COVID-19 vaccine, but applied to a different purpose. This early result in mice will require considerable testing before this approach can lead to clinical trials in people. 

“A noninflammatory mRNA vaccine for treatment of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis,” by Drs. Christina Krienke, Ugur Sahin, and colleagues, was published in Science on January 8, 2021 (Vol. 371, Issue 6525, pp. 145-153).
 

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Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.

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