Major Immune System Research Could Lead to MS Breakthroughs


A major research effort is aimed at decoding the human immune system. It could advance clinical understanding and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Wayne Koff, PhD

Wayne Koff, PhD

Scientists are reporting positive developments in a large-scale, multi-partner research initiative aimed at boosting our understanding of the immune system and of immune-mediated diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS).

Early findings from 2 clinical programs of the Human Vaccines Project were released at the World Vaccine and Immunotherapy Congress, in San Diego, this November. The research is aimed at understanding to a much greater depth precisely how the human immune system works, and also gaining new insights into why vaccines work on some people, but not others.

“The goal of the Human Vaccines Project is to decode the human immune system in order to facilitate accelerated development of diagnostics, vaccines and therapies for major global diseases,” Wayne Koff, PhD, president and CEO of the Human Vaccines Project, told MD Magazine.

As they work to achieve that broader goal, however, Koff said the hope is that they will increase our knowledge of other related disorders.

“We will examine both ends of the spectrum of immune-mediated disorders, including immune suppression, which is often seen in the elderly, newborns, and populations in the developing world, as well as autoimmunity — with multiple sclerosis being the primary autoimmune disease we plan to investigate,” Koff said.

The research could lead to a spectrum of MS-related advances such as biomarkers, and new and better therapies.

One part of the Human Vaccine Project, called the Human Immunome Program, seeks to improve vaccines by gaining a better understanding of the components of the human immune system. That research team is sequencing combined and expressed adult B and T cells, as well as cord umbilical cord blood samples.

By studying millions of cells at an “unprecedented depth,” the researchers hope to find previously unidentified elements of the immune system.

The second program has the goal of figuring out why some people are protected in the long-term with just a single injection of a hepatitis B vaccine, while others need up to 3 injections.

With the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, the team has been able to preliminarily determine that the activation of marker genes in subsets of innate immune cells make it possible to distinguish between vaccine responders and non-responders.

The researchers plan to expand that program, making it the most comprehensive analysis of a single vaccine ever.

In the longer term, Koff said the broad scope of the Human Vaccines Project could lead to a wide range of benefits for patients with a number of diseases and disorders. For MS specifically, he said the potential benefits include the possibility of preventing the disease.

“There is definitely potential that research from the Project’s clinical studies on both healthy subjects and subjects in disease states might lead to diagnostics, vaccines and/or therapies to help prevent or control diseases like MS,” Koff said.

Last week, the group announced a new research prize aimed at encouraging young investigators to make major breakthroughs in vaccines and therapies for major global diseases. More information on that program can be found here.

For more extensive coverage pertaining to multiple sclerosis, check out MD Magazine's sister site, NeurologyLive. The Clinical Focus page serves as a resource for articles, videos, and newly released data from the field’s most attended conferences.

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