Autoimmunity in 2019

There seems to be a war between cancer, infection, and autoimmunity. Is this a war that we will win? Yella Hewing-Martin Ph.D. gave some information regarding the facts in an article that was fact-checked by Jasmin Collier.

All of the different vaccines have proven to be game-changers in modern medicine but this fight isn’t yet over. Cancer, infectious diseases and autoimmune conditions are still plaguing humanity to present with the hopes of seeing this change in 2018.

Wouldn’t it be nice if in the future vaccines were painless and could be given in the comfort of our own home to eradicate infectious diseases as the flu and HIV? And wouldn’t it be great if we were allowed to have a cancer vaccine!

Immunotherapies are specifically targeted to combat cancer cells, stop allergies and prevent organ rejection. This leap may potentially lie in innovative biomaterials, according to Dr. Jonathan S. Bromberg, a professor of surgery and microbiology and immunology along with Christopher M. Jewell, Ph.D. and an associate professor in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, who are both at the University of Maryland in College Park. They have published in the journal Trends in Immunology a journey into the world of biomaterials and the potential they hold to revolutionize vaccines and immunotherapy.

Biomaterial is any type of material that could be used in medicine to support, enhance or replace damaged tissue or a biological function, says the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Biomaterials come in the form of glass, ceramics, plastic, metal, and materials such as collagen and gelatin as well as can be made from cells or organs. These can be made into large structures, such as hip joints, contact lenses, stents, and smaller ones that include sutures and dissolvable dressings. Biomaterials have the advantage of being able to function at the microscopic level for the purpose of vaccines and immunotherapies.

According to Profs. Bromberg and Jewell, nanoparticles and lipids used to deliver an HIV vaccine in mice have shown improved immune responses and delivery of vaccine components using microneedles. Microneedles are tiny needles that can be used to permeate the skin and deliver vaccines that are so small they do not cause pain. It is essential that treatment homes in on the target in cancer therapy. The biomaterials can be primed with a homing signal that is specific to a cancer cell to allow it to dock onto a cell bearing the matching molecule to deliver chemotherapy to kill the cancer cell.

Biomaterials could also make use of the body’s own ability to fight against cancer cells to improve a T cell’s innate anti-tumor response. Both infectious diseases and cancer seek to harness a pro-inflammatory immune response using vaccines. Conditions caused by autoimmunity are the opposite, such as MS, allergy and organ transplant rejection. Biomaterials have been used to deliver self-antigens to which only people with autoimmune conditions normally react to shift the immune response from attack to tolerance.

There is an increasing need for greater control over the types of immune responses used to combat infection, cancer, and autoimmunity, despite the past advances of vaccines and immunotherapies. Few have been tested in humans and it is unknown how the immune system will react to biomaterials. They do allow better control over responses to antigens, adjuvants or immunomodulators and can be used to target these cues to special tissues or cell populations as well as to modify immune cells or pathogens.

Dr Fredda Branyon