Researchers develop mRNA vaccine to treat MS-like condition in mice

14 January 2021

The media have reported news of a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis which uses technology similar to two of the Covid-19 vaccines. We’ve taken a closer look to find out more about the research behind the headlines.

The news story is based on a study published in the journal Science. German researchers injected messenger RNA (mRNA) into mice with an MS-like condition. The mRNA had been amended to instruct certain cells to produce substances similar to myelin, the fatty protein which acts as insulation for nerve cells. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the myelin. The aim of this study was to induce the immune system to tolerate myelin, rather than attack it.

The researchers found that when the mRNA was injected into mice with MS-like disease, the mice developed less severe disease than would normally occur.

The research uses similar technology to two of the Covid-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) but used in a different way. Instead of using a vaccine to prime the immune system to recognise and fight off an infection, this approach uses the vaccine to teach the immune system to tolerate (or ignore) myelin.

So far, this approach has only been tested in mouse models of MS. The results are encouraging but translating a treatment from the MS-like condition in mice is not straightforward. Further research will need to study whether it is effective and safe in humans. However, the technology shows potential, and we will be keeping a close watch for any further developments.

Krienke C, Kolb L, Diken E, et al.
A noninflammatory mRNA vaccine for treatment of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis.
Science 2021; 371(6525): 145-153.