Researchers from the University of Toledo have discovered a prospective new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The vaccine-based treatment strategy proved successful in preliminary animal studies and the researchers are looking to conduct more clinical trials in the future.
The research hinges around a protein called 14-3-3 zeta. Ritu Chakravarti, lead author on the new study, has been studying 14-3-3 zeta for several years due to its suspected role in a number of autoimmune conditions.
The initial hypothesis was this protein played a significant role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. If it was triggering the disease then knocking out the gene in arthritis mouse models should prevent the condition arising in the first place.
But to the researchers surprise, the exact opposite happened. When the mice were deprived of 14-3-3 zeta they demonstrated accelerated disease progression. More specifically, the researchers noted arthritis seemed to be induced in the animals alongside the loss of anti-14-3-3 zeta antibodies
So the research team then developed a novel protein-based vaccine to stimulate production of anti-14-3-3 zeta antibodies and it successfully prevented the development of disease in several animal models.
“Much to our happy surprise, the rheumatoid arthritis totally disappeared in animals that received a vaccine,” says Chakravarti. “Sometimes there is no better way than serendipity. We happened to hit a wrong result, but it turned out to be the best result. Those kinds of scientific discoveries are very important in this field.”
It is very early days for the research with safety and toxicity studies yet to be conducted. This means it is not clear whether this kind of prophylactic vaccine therapy is safe in humans, but Chakravarti is optimistic. She says these findings point to an entirely new pathway for future research into novel arthritis treatments.
“We have not made any really big discoveries toward treating or preventing rheumatoid arthritis in many years,” says Chakravarti. “Our approach is completely different. This is a vaccine-based strategy based on a novel target that we hope can treat or prevent rheumatoid arthritis. The potential here is huge.”