US-US doctors defined the first human test of a DNA-based vaccine to combat multiple sclerosis as successful after treated patients showed signs of improvement.
The test is the first step on the road to creating an effective treatment against this debilitating degenerative disease.
The vaccine moderates the functioning of the immune system, which records an excess of activity in people with multiple sclerosis. The disease is caused by a small group of immune cells that attack the body by targeting the fatty myelin sheaths that line the nerves in the central nervous system.
After several attacks, the nerves are destroyed. The myelin sheath is what helps the signals that pass through the nerves to circulate with speed.
Doctors led by Amit Bar-Or of the Montreal Neurological Institute of Canada devised a vaccine that contains DNA strands that make myelin.
In the test, the vaccine was injected into 30 patients during lapses of one, three, five and nine weeks, while half also received a statin to reinforce the effect of the vaccine, which was administered with three different doses.
All patients in the study suffered from the most common form of the disease, known as relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, in which the symptoms come and go for long periods, or worsen steadily with remission lapses.
Doctors analyzed the patients’ blood to see how they had responded to their immune systems. They saw that the amount of immune cells that specifically attack myelin shells had decreased, as well as the level of antibodies compromised with the disease.
The scientists were enthusiastic about the results, but warned that one should not exaggerate what was discovered in these tests. “We have demonstrated in this first human test of the vaccine that the approach is safe and well tolerated,” they wrote.
The team now started a 12 month trial with 290 patients. If successful, it could pave the way for other DNA-based vaccines for other ailments such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.