SATURDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Two experimental treatments
take aim at the destructive immune response believed to cause
lupus, according to new research presented at the American College
of Rheumatology annual meeting.
One study looked at large doses of vitamin D, while the other
was a trial of a potential vaccine against an immune system protein
called interferon alpha.
"This is an incredibly exciting time in lupus research. The academic and pharmaceutical communities are involved in studies that will hopefully lead to more effective and safer treatments," said Dr. Cynthia Aranow, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. She was not involved in the current studies.
Of these latest studies, Aranow said that both appeared to have
an effect on immune system cells, but neither was designed to
assess whether or not there was enough of an effect to make a
difference to a patient (a clinical response).
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect almost any
part of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs,
nervous system and other organs, according to the Office on Women's
Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
An autoimmune disease is one that develops because the immune
system mistakenly sees healthy cells in the body as foreign
invaders, such as a virus. Instead of fending off bacteria and
other invaders as they should, some immune system cells begin
attacking healthy cells.
The problem in developing a treatment for lupus and other
autoimmune diseases is that a treatment can't just shut down the
entire immune system, because that would leave the body too
vulnerable to infection. So, researchers have been trying to find
the specific immune cells involved in causing lupus. Research has
been looking for ways to slow these cells down, or maybe even
destroy them without damaging the rest of the immune system.
The first study, scheduled for presentation Nov. 6 at the ACR
meeting in Chicago by Dr. Benjamin Terrier of the Pitie-Salpetriere
Hospital in Paris, looked at the effect large doses of vitamin D
might have on the immune response.
The study included 24 people with lupus who had no or mild
disease activity and low levels of vitamin D. At the start of the
study, they were given an injection of 100,000 international units
of vitamin D once a week for four weeks. After that, they received
a once-a-month injection of the same dose of vitamin D for another
The treatment was very well tolerated, and no one developed too
much calcium in their blood or calcium deposits (kidney stones),
according to the researchers.
The investigators also found that the treatment boosted the
activity of good immune cells, and dampened some of those believed
to play a role in lupus.
"It's exciting to see that they were able to reverse some of the immunologic dysfunction associated with lupus, but we need a large randomized clinical trial to confirm this," said Aranow.
She added that the dose of vitamin D used in the study was quite
large, and it's not something that people with lupus should attempt
to duplicate on their own.
The second study involved 28 people with mild to moderate lupus
who were given four doses of a vaccine against interferon alpha
(IFNa), an immune system protein that's known to play a role in the
severity of lupus.
"We were able to demonstrate that the IFNa signature (in excess in lupus patients) can be turned down by vaccinating patients against their own IFNa. The drug is called IFNa-Kinoid. [It's] a modified IFNa, devoid of IFNa biological activity, but modified in such a way that it becomes recognized by the immune system of the patient," explained Dr. Frederic Houssiau, head of rheumatology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels.
He said the patient's immune system then begins to make
antibodies against their own INFa.
Houssiau's team, along with colleagues from the manufacturer of
the vaccine, Neovacs, found the drug to be well tolerated with no
significant side effects.
"This is an early, first step. It appears to be safe. And, the fact that they could show that they could inhibit or down-regulate the interferon signature is very promising," said Aranow.
Houssiau didn't know what the vaccine might cost if developed
commercially, but said it would likely be more expensive than the
standard therapies currently used.
For people living with lupus, he added, "there is hope. By
unraveling more and more pathways at work in lupus patients, we are
now able to develop new, much more targeted drugs to tackle the
Because this research was presented at a medical meeting, the
data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Learn more about
lupus at WomensHealth.gov.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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