Stephen Miller, PhD, the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology, has received the 2021 Technology Innovation and Development Award from the Society For Biomaterials (SFB).
Miller is among a group of scientists who designed and tested nanoparticles that induce gluten tolerance in celiac disease, findings that were published in the journal Gastroenterology.
“The study is the first demonstration that immune tolerance to gluten can be induced in humans with celiac using a ‘negative vaccine’ consisting of gluten encapsulated within nanoparticles which induces a regulatory immune response,” said Miller, who is also a professor of Dermatology, of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disease in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten — a protein found in wheat — their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine.
Miller and his colleagues designed a biodegradable nanoparticle containing gluten that teaches the immune system that gluten is safe. The nanoparticle acts like a Trojan horse, hiding the allergen in a friendly shell to convince the immune system not to attack it.
After treatment with the technology, patients in the trial were able to eat gluten with a substantial reduction in inflammation, while patients in the untreated control group developed inflammation in the small intestine that is a characteristic of celiac disease.
Currently, there is no treatment for celiac disease, and doctors can only recommend gluten avoidance. This nanoparticle platform could be the key to a long-awaited treatment, not just for celiac disease but for other autoimmune and allergic diseases as well, according to Miller.
“Traditional treatments for autoimmune disease employ immunosuppressive drugs which lack specificity and make patients highly susceptible to infections and increase rates of cancer,” Miller said. “The clinical trial proved that the gluten-containing nanoparticles were safe and highly efficacious.”
The study was sponsored by COUR Pharmaceuticals Development and supported by Takeda Pharmaceuticals International.
The SFB is a multidisciplinary society of academic, healthcare, governmental and business professionals dedicated to promoting advancements in all aspects of biomaterial science, education and professional standards to enhance human health and quality of life.