June 18, 2024

New Bioengineered Approach Holds Promise for Treating Ulcerative Colitis

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a new strategy that shows potential for treating ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition affecting millions of people worldwide. By harnessing the mechanisms used by cancer cells to evade the immune system, the researchers were able to retrain the immune system to suppress its activity against the specific cell types attacked in ulcerative colitis.

Typically, autoimmune conditions arise when the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy cells as foreign invaders and launches unnecessary immune attacks. In the case of ulcerative colitis, the immune system attacks colon cells. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, and it is usually managed using systemic immunosuppressors, which can have long-term health complications.

In this study, the researchers utilized a well-established mouse model of ulcerative colitis that mimics the inflammation and damage seen in human patients. They injected the mice with a combination of colon cells, the extracellular matrix that surrounds them, and polymer nanofibers modified to carry proteins that cancer cells use to suppress immune activity.

The results were promising. The injections significantly reduced the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, such as diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and colon inflammation. Tissue analysis also revealed a decrease in immune cell infiltration into the colon lining and a reduction in the concentration of inflammatory molecules. These effects were seen within seven days after injection, with the colon lining appearing completely healed in mice that received the combination treatment. In contrast, mice treated with only parts of the combination or no injection at all still had inflamed colon lesions.

Furthermore, the treatment also showed a 60% reduction in the number of cancerous colon tumors developed, as ulcerative colitis patients have an increased risk of colon cancer. Importantly, the injections targeted only immune activity against the colon and did not suppress immunity throughout the body. This was demonstrated when the researchers gave injections to mouse models of ulcerative colitis that also had melanoma and colon tumors. These animals responded to cancer immunotherapy, which would not be possible if they were systemically immunosuppressed.

The researchers believe that the combination injections could be a promising new treatment for ulcerative colitis and potentially other autoimmune diseases. They have filed a patent to develop this strategy into a clinical treatment. This bioengineered approach, inspired by the mechanisms used by cancer cells, holds promise for offering relief to individuals with ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune conditions.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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