A simple vaccine could stop the onset of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s, say scientists.
The potential treatment has proved successful in animal studies and it is hoped the breakthrough could lead to new ways of tackling a range of conditions including cancer.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakes some parts of the body as a pathogen and starts attacking its own cells.
But the new vaccine, based on nanotechnology, stops this process without causing severe side effects.
Lead researcher Professor Irit Sagi, from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, hailed the discovery and believes it could prompt more effective treatments.
She said: ‘We are excited not only by the potential of this method to treat Crohn’s, but by the potential of using this approach to explore novel treatments for many other diseases.’
Professor Sagi and her team treated mice with a rodent version of Crohn’s, which is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the gut.
Results showed that untreated mice suffered severe damage to their colons while those injected with the vaccine experienced only ‘limited’ symptoms.
Authors highlight in the journal Nature Medicine. that the new approach is extremely precise, and more effective than previous attempts.
Yeda, the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute, has already applied for patents on the vaccine.
However further testing is now needed before experts can be sure the therapy is safe for humans.
Rheumatoid arthritis is estimated to affect 400,000 people in England and Wales while there are currently 90,000 people living with Crohn’s disease in the UK.
Currently there is no cure for either autoimmune disease and the exact trigger of the condition remains unknown.