Stanford's new antigen microarrays open window to better disease screening

STANFORD, Calif. - Your immune system normally protects against disease, but in some cases - such as with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and type-I diabetes - the immune system actually attacks your body. Until now, these disorders, called autoimmune diseases, have been difficult to diagnose and treat. But a new microarray-based technology developed at Stanford University Medical Center may help solve the problem.

Antigen microarrays, as reported in the March issue of Nature Medicine, give doctors a glimpse of which molecules (antigens) come under attack in an autoimmune disease. By identifying these antigens, doctors can pinpoint diseases and treatment options.

"Right now clinicians test each antigen separately - and each one can take weeks," said P.J. Utz, MD, assistant professor of immunology and rheumatology and senior author on the study. "These arrays could enable a clinician to diagnose the disease on the first visit."

The antigen microarrays - developed in collaboration with Lawrence Steinman, MD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences - consist of glass slides dotted with thousands of proteins and other molecules that are often attacked in autoimmune diseases. To use the microarray, doctors draw a blood sample from the patient and incubate it on the array. Those antibodies that attack molecules on the array will locate their target and latch on. Fluorescent molecules are then added to detect the antibodies, creating colored spots on the slide. From there, it's a matter of counting the spots to see which antigens the immune system recognized.

In normal people, the antibodies will ignore most antigens on the array. Diabetics, however, may produce arrays with spots corresponding to pancreas cell proteins, and people with rheumatoid arthritis produce spots that correspond to molecules found in the joints.

Utz and William Robinson, MD, PhD, a fellow in the division of immunolo

Contact: Amy Adams
Stanford University Medical Center

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