Scientists develop a vaccine for rheumatoid arthritis

In a new study from The University of Toledo, researchers developed an experimental vaccine that shows strong promise in preventing rheumatoid arthritis, a painful autoimmune disease that cannot currently be cured.

The findings represent a major breakthrough in the study of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases in general.

One of the most common autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and breaks down healthy tissue—most notably the lining of joints in the hands, wrists, ankles, and knees.

Some estimates suggest rheumatoid arthritis affects as much as 1% of the global population.

The team has for years studied a protein called 14-3-3 zeta and its role in immune pathologies, including aortic aneurysms and interleukin-17—a cytokine associated with autoimmune diseases.

Based on their prior work, the research group was focused on protein as a potential trigger for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rather than preventing rheumatoid arthritis, researchers discovered that removing the protein through gene-editing technology caused severe early-onset arthritis in animal models.

Working under a new theory that the 14-3-3 zeta protein protects against rheumatoid arthritis, the team developed a protein-based vaccine using purified 14-3-3 zeta protein grown in a bacterial cell.

They found the vaccine promoted a strong and immediate—but long-lasting—response from the body’s innate immune system, providing protection against the disease.

In addition to suppressing the development of arthritis, the vaccine also strongly improved bone quality—a finding that suggests there should be long-term benefits following immunization.

Currently, rheumatoid arthritis is treated primarily with corticosteroids, broad-scale immunosuppressive drugs, or newer, more targeted biologics that target a specific inflammatory process.

While those therapeutics can alleviate pain and slow the progression of the disease, they also can make patients more vulnerable to infection and, in the case of biologics, can be costly.

Researchers have filed for a patent on their discovery and are seeking pharmaceutical industry partners in hopes of establishing a preclinical trial.

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The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One author of the study is Dr. Ritu Chakravarti.

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