Scanning electron micrograph of biodegradable microparticles that reprogram immune cells to protect joints against inflammatory arthritis. Imaged at UC San Diego's Nano3 facility, Jacobs School of Engineering.

Engineers have developed a biodegradable polymer system to treat rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, by working in concert with the power of the human immune system.

The research builds on increasing clinical interest in modulating the immune system to treat cancers and autoimmune disease, as well as previous work with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) which is produced naturally in the body and helps cells grow and develop. By approaching these challenges from the perspective of a biomaterials engineering lab, the team adds two key innovations to previous methods: local release and harnessing the joint microenvironment for sustained effectiveness.

With this method, encapsulated ATRA is injected directly into a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis, where it remains in effect for at least several weeks. During that time, ATRA transforms disease-causing cells into disease-stopping cells, known as regulatory T cells, which can treat or prevent the disease elsewhere in the body. (Image credit: UC San Diego’s Nano3 facility, Jacobs School of Engineering.)

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