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"Absorbing News" -- The Discovery Files

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Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed "nanosponges" that can safely absorb and neutralize a variety of proteins that play a role in the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Injections of these nanosponges effectively treated severe rheumatoid arthritis in two mouse models, and administering the nanosponges early on prevented the disease from developing.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Joint effort.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Rheumatoid arthritis -- an autoimmune disease that causes painful inflammation of the joints and may lead to damage of cartilage and bone tissue. Conventional treatments help manage the symptoms, but a new approach might be more effective at treating the disease.

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have successfully treated it in one mouse model, and even stopped it from developing in another -- using sponges -- nanosponges.

As the disease begins to develop, cells in the joints produce inflammatory proteins. A type of white blood cell called a neutrophil is one of the first responders. Ironically, these "good-guy" cells unwittingly help the disease progress by releasing more inflammatory proteins that trigger yet more neutrophils to enter the joints which then release more inflammatory -- (interrupting himself) you see where I'm going with this?

Injecting nanosponges nips the inflammatory cascade in the bud. Acting as neutrophil decoys, the sponges (Sound effect: cartoon sponge suck) soak up the proteins stopping the cycle. Reducing inflammation and joint damage.

The team hopes to one day see their work in human clinical trials. While they may not fully get the science behind this a more pain-free life is something many sufferers can certainly -- grasp.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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