In 1945, a woman wrote a classified ad in The New York Times seeking one thing: hope. The ad -- penned by then-29-year-old Sylvia Lawry -- asked survivors of a certain disease to come forward and share their stories. It read: "Multiple Sclerosis. Will anyone recovered from it please communicate with patient."
At the time, Sylvia's brother had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) -- a crippling disease that affects the nerves -- and she wanted … needed … someone to tell her that her brother would live. She did not get that answer, but she received more than 50 responses from MS patients who asked the same question for themselves.
As a result, Sylvia Lawry became an advocate for MS and founded the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which has inspired research for the disease that affects more than 400,000 people in the United States. Baylor investigators are among those whose research has significantly helped individuals, like the Lawrys, find the hope they so desperately need.
Testing an MS Vaccine
Thanks to new insights related to dendritic cell vaccines, researchers are investigating a potential vaccine for MS treatment and prevention at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR), a division of Baylor Research Institute. If future research supports early findings, the study could mark an important first in that it attacks MS early while preserving the immune system.
Led by principal investigator SangKon Oh, PhD, with support from Gerard Zurawski, PhD, and Ted Phillips, MD, PhD, the lab research was launched three years ago -- with early, promising findings now surfacing.
The study uses a radically different approach than traditional MS treatments, some of which can adversely affect the immune system. Traditional treatments may trigger immune system-related side effects -- even though they are effective in treating MS. The new vaccine-based therapy does not appear to encounter those limitations.
"Dr. Oh's approach is a very unique effort that would harness one's own immune system to suppress MS in an auto antigen-specific manner without disrupting other aspects of normal immunity," said Dr. Phillips, a neurologist whose work has focused on MS for more than three decades.
Taking a Cue from Other Types of Research
The study's inspiration came from previous research related to dendritic cells for cancer and infectious diseases. During those investigations, scientists identified a special property of those cells that could influence the behavior of the immune system -- and play a role in treating autoimmune diseases such as MS.
"We discovered that DC-ASGPR, one of the receptors expressed on human dendritic cells, has novel functions to promote antigen-specific regulatory T cells that can efficiently suppress inflammatory responses," Dr. Oh said. "This prompted us to test our discovery in autoimmune diseases where antigens are known."
While the researchers have tempered their enthusiasm, early indicators hint at extraordinary potential for these new MS vaccines. Those results have been so positive, Dr. Oh said, that they are hopeful this study can enter a Phase I clinical trial in the next three years.
Additionally, the researchers will apply these findings to future studies about dendritic cell vaccines, including a planned research effort for type 1 diabetes.
"We need new treatments that, while highly efficacious, also minimally adversely impact the individual's immune system," Dr. Phillips said.
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