May 12, 2003
A new study shows using gene therapy to produce a protein called a-MSH can help treat uveitis and other autoimmune diseases.
Uveitis is characterized by inflammation of the eye. It often results in permanent eye damage. Uveitis is the third leading cause of blindness worldwide and accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of cases of blindness in the United States.
Previous studies show injections of a-MSH suppress uveitis and help the body produce a special type of immune cell that fights off harmful effects of the condition. New findings offer more suggestions.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School injected uveitis-infected mice with a gene that produces a-MSH. Less than 50 percent of the injected mice showed retinal inflammation. More than 80 percent of the mice that were untreated showed major symptoms of uveitis.
Eyes injected with a-MSH also had significantly less inflammation than eyes that were not. When the retinas of the eyes treated with gene therapy were examined under a microscope, they appeared normal and healthy, but the untreated eyes showed damaged retinal tissue that was disorganized.
Researchers believe treatment with a-MSH not only decreases the risk of severe retinal damage in people with uveitis but also can suppress inflammation and protect delicate tissue affected by other autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
SOURCE: Annual Meeting of the American Association for Research in Vision
and Ophthalmology, May 4-9, 2003, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
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