DURHAM, N.C., Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Polymers that clear debris from dead cells shut down the harmful cycle of inflammation and immune response in mice with lupus, according to a study.
In tests on mice with lupus, the use of polymers helped clean up the debris, preventing inflammatory immune responses, and preventing the need to dampen the immune system in order to control the effects of the disease, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder affecting about five million people worldwide that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue the same as it would attack a virus or bacteria, according to The Lupus Foundation.
Normally, the disease is treated by dampening the immune system, which reduces inflammation caused by the body attacking itself, but also makes it easier for pathogens to infect and cause other illnesses.
Researchers at Duke University thought if they halted the endless cycle of inflammation caused by the immune attacks on tissue, they could prevent damage from the disease while not exposing the body to pathogens -- finding it worked in mice.
"Essentially what you have in an autoimmune disease is a vicious cycle," Dr. Eda Holl, an assistant professor in Duke University's Department of Surgery, said in a press release. "Our goal was to break this cycle at its onset. What we saw in animals with lupus when we used these compounds was a dramatic reduction in inflammation, which gave the body a chance to heal."
For the study, researchers treated mice with lupus using nucleic acid-binding polymers, hoping to scoop up debris remaining from DNA and RNA of dead cells that may be activating the immune system to attack.
While the polymers prevented inflammation in the mice, they also allowed the rodents' immune systems to fight off influenza -- in some cases better than healthy mice without lupus.
Based on the success, the researchers think the approach has the potential to treat other inflammatory conditions, including diabetes and possibly some of the health complications linked to obesity.
"This debris left by dead cells can mistakenly signal to the body that there is an infection that warrants immune action, triggering the innate immune system," said Dr. Bruce Sullenger, director of the Duke Translational Research Institute. "By selectively targeting the source of the immune activation rather than shutting off the innate immune system downstream, these nucleic acid scavengers are able to limit pathological inflammation without compromising one's ability to fight a viral infection."