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Autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes are the third largest cause of morbidity and mortality in the US. In these and other autoimmune diseases, immune cells mistakenly attack and destroy healthy tissue; in the case of multiple sclerosis, the target is myelin, which creates the protective sheath around nerve cells. As a result of the autoimmune response to myelin, nerve cell communication is disrupted, causing numbness, paralysis and blindness. It has been estimated that about 400,000 people in the US and more than 2 million people worldwide suffer from multiple sclerosis. Current treatments for many autoimmune diseases involve suppression of the whole immune system, leaving the affected individuals vulnerable to infections and more susceptible to cancer. Rather than suppressing the total immune response, an ideal treatment for autoimmune diseases would instead ‘retrain’ the immune system to recognize the target tissue as harmless and to tolerate it instead of attacking it. A team of researchers led by Stephen D. Miller (Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL) recently reported successfully doing exactly that in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis.
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