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Drug targeting technique could aid therapies for immune diseases

A new technique that targets drugs to specific cells could lead to improved therapies for diseases caused by an overactive immune response.

Microscopy images of living zebrafish with red macrophages show that the drug (yellow spots) is preferentially released in cells
Microscopy images of living zebrafish with red macrophages show that the drug (yellow spots) is preferentially released in cells

The approach could help people affected by conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, where the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.

Inflammation

Researchers focused on a group of immune cells called macrophages – some of which help the body heal after injury, while others can promote harmful inflammation.

The team at the University of Edinburgh sought to devise a new therapy to remove harmful macrophages while leaving healing cells unaffected

This is an important step forward in the design of more precise drugs with fewer side effects.

Dr Marc VendrellMedical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research

Selective approach

They coupled a drug compound to a carrier molecule that only becomes active in acidic conditions, such as those found inside harmful macrophages.

A fluorescent tag attached to the molecules enabled the team to track the cells affected by the drug.

Tissue recovery

Lab tests on human macrophages showed the treatment preferentially affected inflammatory macrophages and did not affect healing cells.

Studies with zebrafish, which share features of their immune system with people, found the treatment helped to improve the recovery of tissues after injury.

Therapy hope

The team hopes their approach could lead to more effective therapies, with fewer side effects, for the treatment of immune-related diseases.

Their research was published in the journal ACS Central Science.

With our tools we hope that we will enable future mechanistic studies to: 1) dissect inflammatory diseases better by identifying the real subpopulations of immune cells causing disease; 2) provide a new delivery technology to release drugs in those populations on cells.”

Dr Marc VendrellMedical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research

Related links

Journal article

MRC Centre for Inflammation Research

Edinburgh Medical School