More than 2.3 million people worldwide suffer from multiple sclerosis, an immune-mediated disease, developed when the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath which covers nerve fibers, and leads to communication issues between the brain and the rest of your body.
It causes deterioration or permanent damage to the nerves, and until now, there is no cure for it.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Multiple sclerosis signs and symptoms may differ greatly from person to person and over the course of the disease depending on the location of affected nerve fibers. They may include:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign)
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
“Most people with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course. They experience periods of new symptoms or relapses that develop over days or weeks and usually improve partially or completely. These relapses are followed by quiet periods of disease remission that can last months or even years.
About 60 to 70 percent of people with relapsing-remitting MS eventually develop a steady progression of symptoms, with or without periods of remission, known as secondary-progressive MS.
The worsening of symptoms usually includes problems with mobility and gait. The rate of disease progression varies greatly among people with secondary-progressive MS. Some people with MS experience a gradual onset and steady progression of signs and symptoms without any relapses. This is known as primary-progressive MS.”
People suffering from it use pharmaceuticals to suppress the immune system, which often come with a myriad of side-effects. However, Dr. Su Metcalfe and her company, LIFNano, are struggling to change this.
Su has found a small binary switch which regulates inside the immune cells, and she is currently working with a stem-cell particle called LIF, which can control the cell in order not to attack healthy bodily tissues, while still protecting us and releasing an attack when needed.
LIF stem-cell particles are a form of regenerative medicine, which help the repair of tissues and ensure the healthy function of the brain and the spinal cord. Su attempts to reverse the autoimmunity, but at the same time, to repair the brain damage.
However, during her research, Su discovered that LIF could only survive for 20-minutes before being broken down by the body, which is too short for the therapeutic actions to deploy.
This emphasized the need for nanoparticles.
The combination of LIF and nanoparticles is compatible with the body, and slowly dissolves, and the role of the nanoparticles is to administer the LIF over a period of five days.
“The nanoparticle itself is a protective environment, and the enzymes that break it down can’t access it. You can also decorate the surface of the particles with antibodies, so it becomes a homing device that can target specific parts of the brain. So you get the right dose, in the right place, and at the right time.”
These particles are a discovery of researchers at Yale University, but LIFNano has the worldwide license to deploy them. Now, Su maintains that we are about to discover some groundbreaking medicine. She says:
“Nano-medicine is a new era, and big Pharma has already entered this space to deliver drugs while trying to avoid the side effects. The quantum leap is to actually go into biologics and tap into the natural pathways of the body.
We’re not using any drugs, we’re simply switching on the body’s own systems of self-tolerance and repair. There aren’t any side effects because all we’re doing is tipping the balance.
Auto-immunity happens when that balance has gone awry slightly, and we simply reset that. Once you’ve done that, it becomes self-sustaining and you don’t have to keep giving therapy, because the body has its balance back.”
The potential of LIFNano has already attracted two major funding awards, from drug firm Merck and the Government’s Innovate UK agency, and Su believes it could attract more investments, in order to be able to start clinical trials in 2020.
“We’ve got everything we need in place to make the nanoparticles in a clinically compliant manner, it’s just a case of flicking the switch when we have the money. We’re looking at VCs and big Pharma because they have a strong interest in this area. We’re doing all our pre-clinical work concurrently while bringing in the major funds the company needs to go forward in its own right.”
The subject of immune cells has a central part throughout the entire career of Su.
“The immune cell is the only single cell in the body that is its own unity, so it functions alone. It’s probably one of the most powerful cells in the body because it can kill you, and if you haven’t got it you die because you haven’t got it.”
Moreover, she hopes that her findings could “lead into other major autoimmune disease areas. Psoriasis is high up on our list, and diabetes is another. Downstream from there are all the dementias since LIF is a major health factor for the brain – if we can get it into the brain we can start protecting against dementia.”