The traditional approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves therapies that try to slow down the disease process and alleviate symptoms.
A new vaccine, however, may change that by focusing instead on the underlying cause and not simply masking the symptoms or slowing progression.
According to a clinical trial that was published in Science Translational Medicine, the newly created vaccine-style treatment has been proven to be safe and effective for treating the root cause of RA.
By tackling the underlying cause, patients may experience a better prognosis and quality of life.
“Current therapies only treat the symptoms and slow the progression of disease,” said Professor Ranjeny Thomas, head of the autoimmunity division at the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute in Australia. But this new vaccine will do more than that, by suppressing the immune system right off the bat.
As Thomas explained, “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.”
How Does It Work?
“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,” explained Thomas.
Researchers were able to reduce inflammation by taking blood from each RA patient involved in the study, treating and retraining the cells, and then injecting the blood back into the patient. The injection of the patient’s own modified cells was proven to be safe. It was also an efficient way to essentially stop RA flares before they start.
“At this stage, the technique would not be ideal for widespread treatment or prevention of rheumatoid arthritis because it’s costly and time-consuming,” said Thomas in a statement to the press.
“However, the promising results of this trial lay the foundations for the development of a more cost-effective, clinically-practical vaccine technology that could deliver similar outcomes for patients,” she added.
Authors of the study noted that the findings may be beneficial for other autoimmune ailments in the future.
What Are People Saying?
Natural health practitioner Jenna Stone, HHC, AADP, of Poughkeepsie, New York, said, “It makes sense that a vaccine created by a patient’s own modified cells would in essence retrain their immune system, if they have an autoimmune disorder. In autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, we see the immune system attacking healthy cells instead of harmful invaders like it was created to do.”
Stone agreed with the researchers that it simply made sense as a medical theory to try to put this formula into practice.
“It seems that this vaccine treatment would retrain or confuse the immune system enough to be effective in treating and even preventing these inflammatory conditions like RA. Often our body creates disease but also has the power to heal it. This is a prime example of that notion combined with modern science to form a winning approach,” she said.
RA patient Laurie Keens, of Bonner, Idaho, said she would be on board with a treatment method like this.
“I’ve tried pretty much everything and will continue to try anything that works in healing or taming this awful disease,” she said. “If a vaccine could help my symptoms even a little bit, it’s worth a try. And if it can help me, if it can help to prevent future generations from developing RA in the first place, then I’m all for it.”
While the vaccine idea is in its early stages and is presently rooted more in theory than application, it could hold a lot of hope for Keens and other people with RA in the not-so-distant future.