Genetically engineered immune cells wipe out lupus in mice
Lupus can be a stubborn disease to treat. Although many struck by the autoimmune condition live relatively normal lives, some suffer from kidney failure, blood clots, and other complications that can be deadly. Now, scientists have found that a novel treatment that wipes out the immune system’s B cells cures mice of the condition. Though the work is preliminary, it has excited researchers because it uses a therapy already approved for people with blood cancer.
The strategy is known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T therapy. It involves genetically engineering T cells, the sentries of the immune system, so they recognize and destroy certain cells in the body. Although it comes with potentially serious side effects, it can be lifesaving. The approach took the cancer world by storm in 2011, after scientists reported saving patients with an advanced form of leukemia. Since then, it has been approved to treat certain leukemias in children and lymphomas in adults. Although CAR-T therapy can target different cells, the approved treatments hunt down and destroy B cells by spotting a protein marker, CD19, that almost all B cells sport on their surface.
Since CAR-T therapy emerged, scientists who study autoimmune diseases have eyed it with interest because B cells are involved in many of these diseases. B cells can release autoantibodies that damage the body’s tissue and provoke T cells into attacks on tissues as well. In 2016, a team at the University of Pennsylvania reported that mice with a rare autoimmune disease called pemphigus vulgaris were helped by CAR-T therapy.