Autoimmune diseases are disorders where the body’s defense system turns on itself. This group of diseases, which includes rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, represents one of the top 10 causes of death in women. Automimmune diseases are currently primarily treated by immunosuppressive drugs which hold the immune system in check, but this type of therapy comes with the risk of developing severe infections and various other side effects.
Recently, a team of international researchers have found that distracting the body’s immune system by targeting its attention elsewhere could be an effective alternative to long-term immunosuppression with pharmaceuticals. They discovered that injecting antibodies against red blood cells into mice forced their immune systems to re-direct their efforts toward these specific cells, sparing other tissues from attack. They found that this approach was an effective treatment in various models of mouse arthritis, preventing the infiltration of inflammation-causing immune cells into the joints.
Anti-red blood cell antibodies derived from healthy volunteers are in fact already being used to protect the rhesus positive (Rh+, referring to the plus or minus sign after your ABO blood group) babies of Rh- mothers, and such medications could be re-purposed to treat various other autoimmune diseases. This method of treating autoimmune diseases is promising in that it may decrease our reliance on immunosuppressant drugs someday down the line.