World first: Rheumatoid arthritis vaccine being trialled

Rheumatoid arthritis affects almost 500,000 Australians every year and is incredibly debilitating and painful for sufferers. Thankfully, researchers from the University of Queensland have developed a world-first vaccine-style therapeutic approach to treat rheumatoid arthritis and have had success in early clinical trials.

According to UQ Diamantina Institute lead researcher Professor Ranjeny Thomas, results from the phase one clinical trial, published in Science Translational Medicine yesterday, demonstrate the new treatment is safe and effective in suppressing the immune response.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease when the system attacks healthy joints, causing inflammation, pain and deformity. Professor Thomas said the new treatment targeted the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Current therapies only treat the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease,” Professor Thomas said. “We have designed a vaccine-style treatment or ‘immunotherapy’ specifically for individuals carrying high-risk rheumatoid arthritis genes and specific rheumatoid arthritis antibodies, called anti-CCP.

“This type of rheumatoid arthritis is called ‘CCP-positive’ and accounts for the majority of cases.

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“Our immune system is made up of specialised cells that move through blood and tissue, preventing disease and fighting infection by distinguishing between what is the body’s own healthy tissue and what is foreign.

“This treatment teaches the patient’s immune system to ignore a naturally occurring peptide that is incorrectly identified as ‘foreign’, resulting in the production of CCP antibodies and causing inflammation.

“A personalised immunotherapy was prepared for each patient by taking a sample of their blood and extracting a particular type of immune cell called dendritic cells.

“The patient’s dendritic cells were then challenged with the ‘foreign’ peptide and an immune system modulator.

“The treated dendritic cells were then injected back into the patient”, Professor Thomas said.

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A single injection of the patient’s own immune-modified dendritic cells was found to be safe and to help su[press the immune response in rheumatoid arthritis, in turn reducing inflammation.

She said trials were promising so far and could also help sufferers of Type 1 diabetes.


Tell us, would you participate in a trial if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis?