While vaccines usually work by boosting the body’s immune system to fight a certain disease, reverse vaccines can instead lower immunity against certain targets. For instance, it can utilize modified DNA to shut down specific sections of the immune system. Thus it acts antithetically to conventional vaccinations. Their importance lies in the following:
- Most current treatment methods for autoimmune diseases involve shutting down large portions of the immune system. While this can be an effective strategy for more severe disorders, like multiple sclerosis, it is desired that a more tailored therapy for less threatening conditions be created.
- While currently, most vaccines aim to boost a patient’s immune response to a virus by injecting a genetically modified version of the disease into the body, the DNA reverse vaccine does the opposite, i.e. it intentionally turns off select portions of the immune response that are malfunctioning. Thus it offers a potential treatment for diseases like type-1 diabetes.
- This has been confirmed by a recent clinical trial, which has suggested that the DNA ‘reverse’ vaccine designed to combat type-1 diabetes, may selectively counter the errant immune response that causes it.
- The only available therapy for type-1 diabetes at the moment is to administer insulin either by injection or via a pump on a daily basis for the rest of the patient’s life.
- The researchers tested the idea that they could induce a tolerance to insulin by injecting a specially engineered DNA molecule into patients. This molecule carries the code to produce insulin’s precursor, proinsulin, directly inside the muscles of patients.
- This could then raise the patient’s tolerance so that the immune cells that kill off the beta cells in the pancreas might be either reduced or eliminated.
- Thus vaccinating type-1 diabetes sufferers with specially engineered DNA might help to protect the body’s insulin producing cells.
The research has suggested that the immunologist’s dream of shutting down just a single subset of dysfunctional immune cells without wrecking the whole immune system may be attainable. In this context this vaccine is a breakthrough concept as it shuts off a specific immune response, rather than turning on specific immune responses as conventional vaccines for, say, influenza or polio aim to do. So, in the future, other autoimmune diseases could benefit from this as well.