Research Report, Summarized by Mary McNeil, SjSC
A breakthrough in the study of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and potentially in other autoimmune diseases, was discovered serendipitously by researchers at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. The findings were detailed in a paper entitled 14-3-3 Zeta: A Suppressor of Inflammatory Arthritis published in August 2021 in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. RA, also known as inflammatory arthritis, affects 1% of the world’s population and is slightly more prevalent than Sjögren’s. RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and breaks down the healthy tissue lining the joints in the hands, wrists, ankles, and knees causing inflammation, pain, bone erosion and joint deformity. As with most autoimmune diseases, there is no cure for RA and so much is still unknown about what brings it on.
For the past four years, Dr. Ritu Chakravarti, an assistant professor at the University of Toledo, has been studying a protein called 14-3-3 zeta as a potential trigger for RA. In fact, they found the opposite! Rather that preventing RA, researchers discovered that removing the protein through gene-editing technology caused severe early onset arthritis in animal models. Based on their new theory that the 14-3-3 zeta protein actually protects against RA, the research team developed a protein-based vaccine using purified 14-3-3 zeta protein grown in bacterial cells. They found that the RA totally disappeared in animals that received a vaccine; the response was strong, immediate, and long-lasting. Not only did the vaccine suppress the development of arthritis, but it also improved bone quality, providing a long-term benefit.
Current therapeutics to treat the inflammation and pain caused by RA involve corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs such a biologics, all of which have possible serious side effects causing infections. A vaccine-based strategy to treat, cure, or prevent RA would be a huge and life-changing discovery for many sufferers of RA and potentially for other autoimmune diseases. Dr. Chakravarti and her team at the University of Toledo have filed for a patent on their discovery and are seeking a pharmaceutical partner to support safety and toxicity studies in the hopes of establishing preclinical trials in humans. Clearly, they are still a long way from introducing an actual vaccine for humans, but the huge potential benefit definitely warrants further investigation.