When discussing recent scientific findings or treatment developments, it’s imperative not to hype up findings too much, since reality is rarely as convenient as marketing would have people believe. On the other hand, some findings are simply interesting and worth discussing just because. With that in mind, let’s explore a recently released study that explores the use of a novel tattoo therapy for treating autoimmune conditions.
The study in question was a proof-of-principle piece from the Baylor College of Medicine that explored the use of antioxidant nanoparticles in targeting elements of the immune system. Basically, they found that nanoparticles that had been modified with polyethylene glycol were more likely to be absorbed by immune cells. If injected as a temporary tattoo, the nanoparticles would form a “dark spot” just under the skin that fades over a week as the particles are released and absorbed.
You need to understand how autoimmune diseases work to know why this finding is useful. In any autoimmune disease, from multiple sclerosis to lupus, the immune system’s T and B cells and macrophages (type of white blood cell) begin to attack the body itself, rather than invaders. What the Baylor tests found is that the T cells would absorb treated nanoparticles that would then inhibit their function, while the other immune cells simply ignored the particles.
Precision is useful in treatments, especially those that affect the immune system. Most autoimmune treatments involve broad types of immunosuppressants, which come with distinct side effects. By weakening the entire immune system, patients become much more vulnerable to opportunistic infections and other ailments. This is why an autoimmune treatment capable of selective targeting is so valuable—it can minimize the side effects while still reducing the symptoms of the autoimmune disease.
The use of this tattoo therapy is still in its early stages of research. Among the other issues that need to be worked out is the fact that the nanoparticles disperse after only a few days, for instance. Still, its nice to get a look behind the scenes at the ingenuity being employed to combat autoimmune diseases and other potentially chronic ailments.
Huq, R., et. al., “Preferential uptake of antioxidant carbon nanoparticles by T lymphocytes for immunomodulation,” Nature Scientific Reports, 2016; 10.1038/srep33808.
Gutierrez, G., “Tattoo therapy could ease chronic disease; skin-embedded nanoparticles may help control autoimmune diseases,” Baylor College of Medicine web site, September 22, 2016; https://www.bcm.edu/news/molecular-physiology-and-biophysics/nanoparticle-therapy-for-autoimmune-disease, last accessed September 23