Researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and Charité University Hospital in Berlin have achieved a significant breakthrough in the treatment of autoimmune encephalitis, a condition where the body’s own antibodies attack the brain. The team developed specialized T cells, known as chimeric autoantibody receptor (CAAR) T cells, which offer a precise and targeted approach to treat the most prevalent form of autoimmune encephalitis, NMDAR encephalitis.

Understanding Autoimmune Encephalitis

Autoimmune encephalitis arises when the body’s antibodies breach the blood-brain barrier, causing inflammation and triggering symptoms such as memory loss, seizures, impaired consciousness, and psychosis. The exact cause remains unknown, though factors like tumors and viral infections, including COVID-19, are believed to contribute. Current treatments often involve broad immunotherapy, impacting the entire immune system, presenting challenges for patients, especially those with cancer.

Precision Treatment with CAAR T Cells

In their preclinical study titled “Chimeric autoantibody receptor T cells deplete NMDA receptor-specific B cells,” the researchers focused on NMDAR encephalitis, where anti-NMDAR autoantibodies disrupt the proper functioning of NMDAR receptors. CAAR T cells were developed by genetically modifying T cells extracted from patients’ blood. These specialized cells precisely identify and target the cells producing harmful anti-NMDAR autoantibodies without affecting healthy immune cells.

Future Clinical Trials and Potential Impact

The researchers plan to initiate clinical trials to test the effectiveness of their therapy in humans. Initially, they aim to create a targeted therapy specific to each NMDAR encephalitis patient but express optimism about developing an off-the-shelf treatment in the future. The approach opens up possibilities for more cost-effective and widely applicable cell therapies, marking a significant advancement in autoimmune encephalitis treatment.

By Impact Lab