Regulatory B cells could be used to combat severe autoimmune diseases in the near future, thanks to researchers at Duke University School of Medicine.
Although scientists have long known that B cells have the potential to inhibit autoimmune diseases, a new study introduced a method for harnessing a special type of regulatory B cell, or B10-cell, to more effectively combat the diseases without causing harm to the body. When an autoimmune disease is present in the body, B10 cells—a type of white blood cell that works as part of the immune system—often attacks healthy tissue as well as diseased tissue because it cannot tell the difference between the two. Researchers removed B10 cells from the bodies of mice with autoimmune diseases and manipulated them so they would only attack substances foreign to the body. The study was published in the journal Nature on Sunday.
“This is a new therapy,” said Dr. Thomas H. Tedder, professor of immunology at Duke and one of the authors of the study. “It provides a molecular basis for understanding how new cells regulate other cells.”
B10 cells were extracted from the mice involved in the study and were exposed to receptor signals that allowed them to interact with T-cells—the “helper cells” of the immune system. This reaction caused the B10 cells to be able to solely target diseased tissue rather than healthy tissue. It also accelerated the reproduction of the B10 cells by four million times, thereby developing enough cells to effectively combat autoimmune diseases once the manipulated cells were reinjected into the body.
“This is taking a cell out of the body, expanding it, making a million copies, and putting it back in,” Tedder said.
This method could potentially combat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.
“Dr. Tedder’s paper shows B cells are important in what stimulates immune responses,” said Dr. Bill St. Clair, chief of rheumatology and immunology. “It is a conceptual advance because it gives more detail about how B cells suppress and stimulate immune responses.”
St. Clair said he was excited about the potential of the findings, describing the research as a new avenue for treatment.
Tedder expressed similar optimism, but was conservative in his estimates about when treatment would be available to patients, adding that it could take as long as ten years, or more.
“Having it ready in three to five years would be a miracle,” Tedder said.
He added that getting a drug from the research stage into a clinic could cost as much as $1.6 billion and require the work of thousands of people. But the study outlines a course of action toward research that will bring scientists even closer to developing treatment options, Tedder noted.
“We provide a path to which [treatment] can occur,” he said. “We are planning on moving forward as fast as humanly possible.”