New research from the University of Calgary might change our current understanding and ways of treating a range of autoimmune diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Scientists at the university's Cumming School of Medicine found a novel mechanism of action that stops the immune attack of white blood cells against healthy tissue — without impairing the system's ability to protect against viruses, bacteria, and other invaders — and developed a class of drugs able to set the mechanism in motion. Their work, while promising, was done in an animal model and needs further testing before it might be considered for clinical use. The research study, “Expanding antigen-specific regulatory networks to treat autoimmunity,” was published in the journal Nature. It revealed that nanoparticles containing protein targets can act as bait, drawing an attack by disease-causing white blood cells that otherwise would target healthy cells, and so be used to treat the disease. The new class of drugs or nanomedicines created, named Navacims, essentially exploit a natural immune response process. "This discovery is significant because we now know how to stop autoimmune diseases in a highly specific manner without compromising immunity in general," said Dr. Pere Santamaria, from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, who is also a member of the university's Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. Santamaria and co-workers highlighted that the new mechanism of action triggered by the nanomedicines might be applied to a range of autoimmune diseases by simply changing the protein targets on the surface of nanoparticles. Treatment of autoimmune diseases aims at suppressing most of the white blood cells causing inflammation, however, many can remain active. Current drugs also do not have the ability to differentiate between malfunctioning white blood cells and normal ones, so that the treatments also suppress normal immunity, making a person susceptible to other infections. "Imagine if you wanted to stop a war," Dr. Santamaria said in a press release. "You would probably want to take out the entire army, which is what current drugs try to do." Nanomedicines work differently. "Rather than taking soldiers out, our drugs trick a single soldier into becoming the 'traitor' that takes out the army General," he said, adding, "without the General, the army ceases to operate and the war ends." The new drugs are currently under development by Parvus Therapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company Dr. Santamaria established with Innovate Calgary.