News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Cambridge scientist ‘on verge of curing multiple sclerosis’

A researcher from Cambridge University, UK, has made a discovery which could lead to a cure for multiple sclerosis. What’s more, she says it can tackle other diseases too.


Dr Su Metcalfe of LIFNano (Photo David Johnson).

Dr Su Metcalfe was working at the university’s department of surgery when she made her big breakthrough. “I was looking to see what controls the immune response and stops it auto-attacking us,” she told the Cambridge News.

It all revolves around a stem cell particle called a LIF.

She explained: “I discovered a small binary switch, controlled by a LIF, which regulates inside the immune cell itself. A LIF is able to control the cell to ensure it doesn’t attack your own body but then releases the attack when needed.

“That LIF, in addition to regulating and protecting us against attack, also plays a major role in keeping the brain and spinal cord healthy. In fact, it plays a major role in tissue repair generally. It turns on stem cells that are naturally occurring in the body.”

It is a natural regenerative medicine, and plays a big part in repairing a damaged brain.

Stopping and reversing disease

“So, I thought this is fantastic. We can treat autoimmune disease, and we’ve got something to treat MS, which attacks both the brain and the spinal cord. It’s a double whammy that can stop and reverse the autoimmunity (disease), and also repair the damage caused in the brain.”

There was a problem, though. The LIF only survives outside the cell for 20 minutes before it is broken down. This meant there was not enough time to deploy it in a therapy.

The answer turns out to be nano-particles.

The particles were developed at Yale University, USA. Yale is listed as co-inventor with Su, but LIFNano has the worldwide licence to deploy them.

Su says: “Nano-medicine is a new era, and big pharma has already entered this space to deliver drugs while trying to avoid the side effects. The quantum leap is to actually go into biologics and tap into the natural pathways of the body.

“We’re not using any drugs, we’re simply switching on the body’s own systems of self-tolerance and repair. There aren’t any side effects because all we’re doing is tipping the balance. Auto-immunity (diseases) happen when that balance has gone awry slightly, and we simply reset that. Once you’ve done that, it becomes self-sustaining and you don’t have to keep giving therapy, because the body has its balance back.”

LIF clinical trials

LIFNano has already attracted two major funding awards, from drug firm Merck and government agency Innovate UK. Su has recruited chairman Florian Kemmerich and ceo Oliver Jarry, both with experience in the pharma sector. The company hopes to attract more investment, with the aim of starting clinical trials in 2020.

“The 2020 date is ambitious, but with the funding we’ve got and the funding we’re hoping to raise, it should be possible,” says Su.

What’s in store for LIFNano after MS?

“MS is our key driver at the moment, but it’s going to be leading through to other major auto-immune disease areas,” Su answers

“Psoriasis is high up on our list, and diabetes is another. Downstream there are all the dementias, because a LIF is a major health factor for the brain. So, if we can get it into the brain we can start protecting against dementia.”

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.