Thursday, December 21, 2006

Biotechnology for producing more tolerant immune system available for licensing

December 21, 2006 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN -- Montana State University researchers have found a new way to fool the immune system into becoming more tolerant.

David Pascual, MSU professor of veterinary molecular biology, said the process will let people tolerate instead of over-react to certain antigens. Antigens are foreign substances that cause the immune system to respond, but some immune systems respond too strongly.

The discovery is good news for people with allergies, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis, Pascual said. The discovery will let people use a nasal spray or take a pill to keep their bodies from overreacting to specific antigens. Their immune system will become non-responsive instead of producing allergic reactions or painful inflammations.

"We are pretty excited about it," said Pascual who noted that MSU has been working on the project for five years. The biotechnology is available now to companies or entrepreneurs that want to license it and develop it further.

The key to the biotechnology is a protein that can be fused to a broad range of antigens, Pascual said. By fusing the protein to a specific antigen, researchers can target diseases. The approach is effective at extremely low doses, Pascual said. In some cases, tolerance is produced after only one dose.

MS is one of many diseases that the new biotechnology could target. Becky Wiehe, regional program manager for the Montana Division, All America Chapter, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said she is encouraged every time she hears about research projects that can help people with MS. She didn't used to hear such reports.

"There are many investigations in the research pipeline," Wiehe said. "That, to me, is exciting. It suggests we have new places to go, and we will get there."

At least 1,600 Montanans have multiple sclerosis, and much about the neurological disease of the brain and spinal cord is a mystery, Wiehe continued. Common symptoms are fatigue, tingling, numbness, and inflammation of the nerve to the eye, but symptoms come and go unpredictably in many people. Montana also has a relatively high number of cases which are related, it seems, to genetic tendencies and the state's distance from the equator.

MS becomes more common the farther you are from the equator, Wiehe said, theorizing that, "It might be a viral issue in colder climates."

She added that Montana's level of MS is comparable to those in other states and countries along the 48th parallel. She said it might also reflect the large number of Montanans whose ancestors came from Scandinavia and Norway. Those areas have MS levels similar to Montana's.

Nick Zelver of the MSU Technology Transfer Office said companies and entrepreneurs that want to license the MSU discovery should express their interest in writing to him by Jan. 31. They can contact him at (406) 994-7868, or at

To date, MSU has licensed 111 technologies developed by faculty, Zelver said. Seventy of those licenses are with Montana companies. To access these and other MSU technologies, visit:
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or