Autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis pose a significant health burden on our society. As a whole, autoimmune diseases affect approximately 6% of the population and are the third largest disease burden after heart disease and cancer. Such pathologic manifestations arise by way of damaging reactions of B-cell derived antibodies and/or T-cells to self-antigens and are triggered by genetic and environmental factors. Currently there is no known cure, with treatment restricted to toxic, long-term immunosuppressive regimes, replacement therapy and in intractable cases, transplantation of autologous or allogeneic haematopoietic stem cells. In experimental models of autoimmunity, gene therapeutic approaches have demonstrated promise in treating the autoimmune diseases. These include delivery of anti-inflammatory cytokines and exploitation of regulatory T cells. However, none of these approaches provide lasting, long-term benefit. We hypothesise that therapeutically transduced haematopoietic stem cells followed by transplantation is an alternative strategy to establish permanent immune tolerance that can not only prevent autoimmunity but also cure these diseases. Our approach is focused on directing autoimmune disease-specific autoantigen expression in the thymus by genetic manipulation of haematopoietic stem cells to establish molecular chimeras. Our hypothesis originates from experimental studies with a mouse model of experimental autoimmune gastritis (EAG) and more recently with the nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse model for type 1 diabetes (T1D).
Keywords: Gene therapy, immunological tolerance, autoimmunity, stem cells
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