A drug originally used to boost the immune system is showing promise as a potential new treatment for lupus, joint Monash University and Peking University research published today shows. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the body’s own organs and tissues.
An international team of scientists from Australia and China have, for the first time, shown in a study published in Nature Medicine, that a natural immune system protein called IL-2 can help restore balance to the overactive immune system of lupus patients. The drug could soon be rolled out for clinical trials in lupus treatment.
Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute researcher, Dr Di Yu and Professor Zhanguo Li from Peking University People’s Hospital in China co-led the study.
Dr Yu said he hoped the drug could be approved as a lupus treatment within a handful of years.
“This drug, which can help the immune system fight against cancer, was approved in the 1990s but is not commonly used now. We’re now using this drug for a different purpose, based on our new knowledge of the immune system,” Dr Yu said.
“The amount we tested for treating lupus is much less than the dose used in treating cancers. We observed the treatment was safe and showed promising results, so there’s reason to believe formal trials could begin almost immediately,” he said.
Dr Yu said lupus could be a serious disease, and that it hadn’t been able to be treated in a very satisfactory way in the past.
IL-2 is a protein that regulates the activity of white blood cells, which are an important part of the immune system that protect the body against infections. In cancer therapy, patients are given large doses of IL-2 to stimulate their immune system but, paradoxically, the low dose IL-2 given to lupus sufferers in this study actually supressed the overactive part of their immune system that attacks their body. The research also showed the “self-checking” part of the immune system that prevents an overactive immune response, called regulatory T cells, increased after IL-2 treatment.
Professor Eric Morand, fellow Monash University researcher on the study and founder of the Asia Pacific Lupus Collaboration, said that in this study, IL-2 was given to people whose lupus wasn’t responding well to standard treatments.
“The real promise of this treatment is that it calms the hyperactive immune system through multiple mechanisms, which is very important as this new therapy may be effective for many patients,” Professor Morand said.
”As the drug has been on the market for some time for other diseases, it can be rapidly put into formal trials for lupus treatment right away.”
Learn more: Promising new treatment for lupus on the horizon
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have confirmed that a benign bacterium called Wolbachia pipientis can completely block transmission of Zika virus in Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species responsible for passing the virus to humans.
Matthew Aliota, a scientist at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine(SVM) and first author of the paper — published today (July 1, 2016) in the journal Scientific Reports — says the bacteria could present a “novel biological control mechanism,” aiding efforts to stop the spread of Zika virus.
Thirty-nine countries and territories in the Americas have been affected by the Zika epidemic, and it is expected that at least 4 million people will be infected by the end of the year. Scientists believe the virus is responsible for a host of brain defects in developing fetuses, including microcephaly, and has contributed to an uptick in cases of a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome. There are not yet any approved Zika virus vaccines or antiviral medications, and ongoing mosquito control strategies have not been adequate to contain the spread of the virus.
Researchers led by Jorge Osorio, a UW–Madison professor of pathobiological sciences, and Scott O’Neill of the the Eliminate Dengue Program (EDP) and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, are already releasing mosquitoes harboring the Wolbachia bacterium in pilot studies in Colombia, Brazil, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia to help control the spread of dengue virus. Their work is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
An important feature of Wolbachia is that it is self-sustainable, making it a very low-cost approach for controlling mosquito-borne viral diseases that are affecting many tropical countries around the world.
Monash University (also known simply as Monash) is a public university based in Melbourne, Australia.
It was founded in 1958 and is the second oldest university in the State of Victoria. Monash is a member of Australia’s Group of Eight and the ASAIHL, and is the only Australian member of the influential M8 Alliance of Academic Health Centers, Universities and National Academies.
Monash enrolls approximately 45,000 undergraduate and 17,000 graduate students, making it the university with the largest student body in Australia. It also has more applicants than any university in the state of Victoria.
Monash is home to major research facilities, including the Australian Synchrotron, the Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP), the Australian Stem Cell Centre, 100 research centres and 17 co-operative research centres. In 2011, its total revenue was over $1.5 billion, with external research income around $282 million.
The university has eight campuses, six of which are in Victoria (Clayton, Caulfield, Berwick, Peninsula, Parkville, and Gippsland), one in Malaysia, and one in South Africa. Monash also has a research and teaching centre in Prato, Italy, a graduate research school in Mumbai, India and a graduate school in Jiangsu Province, China. Since December 2011, Monash has also had a global alliance with the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.
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