A newly-developed drug could kill rebellious immune cells. These cells which prey on the tissues instead of defending them, cause auto-immune diseases such as type-1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The absence of two proteins Bax and Bak from certain immune cells permits them to override apoptosis, a process that ensures cellular death after they have outlived their utility. Consequently, these cells turn against the body, with adverse health outcomes.
Lorraine O'Reilly from Australia's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and colleagues said that some immune cells that lacked the proteins Bax and Bak turned against healthy tissues in many organs.
"Normally, these 'self-reactive' immune cells are deleted during development," O'Reilly said, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
The research shows that Bax and Bak activity can be regenerated by a new class of potential anti-cancer agents, called BH3-mimetics, which are undergoing clinical trials for certain types of leukaemia, O'Reilly said, according to a Walter and Eliza Hall statement.
"Our findings suggest that BH3-mimetics might be an exciting new option for treatment for autoimmune conditions by activating Bax and Bak and making the self-reactive immune cells which are causing the autoimmune disease to die," she said.
Kylie Mason, Daniel Gray, Andreas Strasser and David Huang from the Walter and Eliza Hall and Paul Waring from the University of Melbourne were part of the research team.