Last year we estimated it would take over a year for a vaccine against COVID to be approved, with vaccinations expected by spring 2021.
mRNA vaccines – uses beyond COVID
Last year we estimated it would take over a year for a vaccine against COVID to be approved, with vaccinations expected by spring 2021. Incredibly we have managed to meet this prediction, and by the start of January over 42 million doses have been administered in 51 countries. What is even more astounding is that two of the approved vaccines use a completely new vaccination method never used before. mRNA vaccines can be used to easily deliver a variety of different vaccines by changing the mRNA inside the vaccine capsule, and its benefits may not be limited to just infections.
A recent publication in NATURE has demonstrated the use of mRNA vaccines against auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune condition in which the protective lining of nerves is destroyed by the body’s immune system, significantly slowing down or altering nerve impulse propagation. This leads to symptoms such as fatigue, vision problems, numbness, tingling, aberrant pain, muscle spasms and weakness.
The study looked at introducing antigen-specific tolerance in mice models of MS. This was achieved by activating anti-inflammatory white blood cells. Normally vaccines activate inflammatory white cells to produce a response but altered mRNA with one specific change to its base structure induces and activates anti-inflammatory cells instead.
Furthermore, this anti-inflammatory response is specific to cells that are activated by and attack the body’s nerve cells, thereby delivering a targeted response and not affecting the immune response against infections or cancer. Global immunosuppression is a common side effect of steroids and chemotherapy agents that are normally used to treat auto-immune conditions, and mRNA vaccines may avoid this side effect altogether.
A further advantage is its versatility. This has been demonstrated against multiple sclerosis, but changing the mRNA delivered by the vaccine, it may prove beneficial in far more auto-immune conditions. Of course, we have to emphasize this was an animal study and human trials are unlikely to happen in the next few years, but this study nicely demonstrates how the impact of the COVID pandemic may already be providing beneficial gains for the future.
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