Miry Constantini-Souroujon is a professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Open University, Israel. She has spent three decades studying myasthenia gravis (MG) and ways to treat it.
Here, we run down one of her past approaches and how she thinks she’ll finally find a treatment that leads to disease suppression.
In the past, Souroujon worked with Professor Sara Fuchs to develop a derivative of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for the initiation of muscle contractions. In people with MG, acetylcholine cannot bind to the proper receptors because their immune systems target those receptors and attack them. Souroujon’s hypothesis was that when the acetylcholine derivative was administered, it would become a decoy that lured the autoimmune response away from the receptor sites, thereby allowing proper binding. It worked in some mice with MG, but those with more severe symptoms weren’t able to achieve disease suppression. It was that work, however, that led Souroujon to a new approach.
With a grant from the European Commission, Souroujon (along with a group of international scientists comprising 12 different research teams) is now pursuing the new theory. “In autoimmune diseases,” she says, “you want to up the response of Treg cells (T-cells), because these are the cells that suppress the autoimmune system.”
People with myasthenia gravis have fewer T-cells, and many of the T-cells they do have are impaired. Therefore, Souroujon and her team are attempting to extract these cells, manipulate them in a lab in order to increase their number or improve their function, and then readminister them to the affected patient.
Only time will tell if Souroujon and her teams are successful, but if they are it could be a major step forward. “MG is considered to be a model disease,” she explains. “There are good experimental models existing in animals, [which is] an important tool in pre-clinical stages.” Going forward, she hopes that “results emerging from MG could serve or be applied to other autoimmune and neurological diseases.”