The Autoimmune Problem
The body is fighting itself.
Rebalancing the immune system could change the lives of millions of people.
Definition of an autoimmune disease
An autoimmune disease is one in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.
The immune system is the way the body defends itself against invaders. When the system is out of balance, the body attacks healthy parts of itself, often creating inflammation. The part of the body, or what types of tissue, being attacked defines the type of autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are extremely common
There are many types of autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, and over 80 other syndromes. These diseases account for among the highest rate of medication expenditures. Rheumatoid Arthritis alone contributes an estimated $22.3 billion in annual U.S. healthcare costs.
How the system gets out of balance
There are two types of T cells that play a key role in maintaining a balanced immune system: regulatory T cells and effector T cells. The effectors, or Teffs, are the attackers. Their job is to destroy foreign substances or pathogens. The regulators, or Tregs, help tell the Teffs what to attack and how vigorously to attack. In autoimmune disease, there are too many overactive Teffs and not enough properly functioning Tregs, so the body goes on attacking itself.
Despite significant advances in the development of therapies to treat these conditions, the current state of treatment is to manage the symptoms by trying to calm the entire immune system. To keep the immune system from attacking itself, these treatments can lower the ability of the immune system to attack at all. Now it can’t fight off the invaders it is supposed to fight off. The patient is more susceptible to infection and disease.
Additionally, existing medicines are often short-lived, need to be chronically delivered, and can be ineffective at treating the underlying causes of disease—leaving many patients to suffer in silence.