If you could receive a vaccine to potentially prevent any condition, or at least reduce its severity, would you? According to Medical XPress, University of Toledo researchers are exploring this question in relation to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The researchers developed an experimental vaccine which could protect against rheumatoid arthritis development. Even though RA is considered more “common” than other conditions and is not a rare condition, it can be difficult to diagnose. Even in regards to autoimmune conditions themselves, treatment or prevention can be hard because triggers – or what causes the conditions’ onset – is still somewhat unknown. This vaccine could be a huge advancement for patients if it is shown, in further studies, to be effective.
Interested in learning more? Take a look at the research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
To begin, let’s take a look at what rheumatoid arthritis is. This chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder occurs when the body mistakenly attacks body tissues; in this case, joint linings are affected. As a result, joints throughout the body (including the hands and feet), are affected. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause painful inflammation, restricted mobility, and even joint deformities. An estimated 1-2% of people globally have rheumatoid arthritis, with females being affected 2-3x more than males. Symptoms include:
- Fatigue or general malaise
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Muscle or back pain
- Appetite loss
- Shortness of breath
- Joint stiffness, weakness, pain, swelling, or tenderness
- “Pins and needles” sensation
- Dry mouth
- Skin lumps or redness
- Bumps or swelling on the fingers (rheumatoid nodules)
Developing a Vaccine
Within this particular study, researchers sought to understand how 14-3-3 zeta, a type of protein, played a role in the development of autoimmune conditions. As I explained before, while researchers know that autoimmune diseases mistakenly attack the body, the triggers for these attacks are relatively unknown. In this particular instance, the researchers believed that 14-3-3 zeta could trigger inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
To begin, researchers used various animal models for their research. First, they used gene editing to remove 14-3-3 zeta from the animal models. They believed that doing so would stop RA and associated inflammation from occurring. However, the researchers found that, in actuality, getting rid of 14-3-3 zeta actually spurred the early development of severe arthritis.
Thus, 14-3-3 zeta seemed to have a protective quality. Researchers also wanted to test this angle and created a vaccine using this protein. They administered the vaccine to the animal models to determine whether or not their hypothesis was correct. Through this, researchers found that:
- The 14-3-3 zeta vaccine prevented arthritic development in animal models of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Through vaccination, the animal models saw an increased immune response.
- Bone health and quality were also improved following vaccination.
Altogether, the findings suggest that 14-3-3 zeta does have some protective qualities in regards to immune health and function. This also gives researchers a better understanding of some of the underlying factors which could shape autoimmune disease development. Moving forward, the researchers hope to participate in preclinical studies and potentially advance a new, more effective treatment for patients.