Immune diseases

Finding cures for cancer and auto-immune diseases.

The double-edged sword: the power of the immune system

The immune system responds to foreign invaders and pathological changes in cells and tissues. B cells produce antibodies, T cells and microglia release inflammatory mediators and macrophages remove debris. These processes can be leveraged to treat diseases, such as vaccinations to elicit antibodies to fight viral infections, antibodies to fight Alzheimer’s disease, modulating microglia to reduce neuro-inflammation, and immune-oncology that uses the immune system to recognize and remove tumors. The immune system can also target healthy cells and proteins to cause auto-immune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Myasthenia Gravis, and Multiple Sclerosis.

Ion channels in immune response

and auto-immune disease

Function of ion channels in immunity

The complexity of the human immune system is reflected in the multiple cellular regulation mechanisms it uses.  The activity and function of immune cells are regulated by various ion channels, making them attractive targets for inflammatory and auto-immune disease drug development. Academic and industry groups have developed antibodies, peptide toxins, and small molecule modulators for many of these immune cell ion channels. A  derivative of a sea anemone toxin (ShK-186, Dalazatide) successfully reduced plaque psoriasis symptoms in a clinical trial, validating this drug discovery approach to treat inflammatory auto-immune disease. There is great interest in using a similar approach to regulate the activity of microglia in the brain to treat neuro-inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.

Auto-immune diseases

Ion channels are also associated with several auto-immune diseases. Here, the immune system mistakenly recognizes normal human proteins as foreign, leading to T-cells attacking and destroying ion channels and ionotropic receptors. This process inflicts damage to tissues where these targets are expressed in, leading to metabolic and neurological diseases. Table below summarizes some of these diseases with respective ion channels proposed to be therapeutic targets for their treatment.


Rheumatoid arthritis

A number of ion channels have been implicated in rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease which manifests as inflammation within the synovial joints. It has been proposed that the ligand-gated ion channel, ASIC1a, plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. promoting inflammation, synovial hyperplasia, and destruction of bone which lead to the progression of the disease. The voltage-gated ion channels, KV1.3 and KCa1.1 have also been proposed to play a role in rheumatoid arthritis by regulating fibroblast-like synoviocytes and T memory cells and a combined therapy of KV1.3 and KCa1.1 blockers may prove to be a more effective treatment for the disease than one treatment type alone to slow progression of the disease.

Figure representing the scorpion venom peptide, iberiotoxin (IbTX) block of KCa1.1 in fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) with concentration response curves recoded using the Port-a-Patch.

Tanner M.R., et al. J. Pharmacol. & Exp. Therap. (2018)

Ion channels in auto-immune diseases

Myasthenia Gravis
alpha1 nAChR (neuromuscular junction)
Lambert-Eaton myasthenia
CaV2.1, CaV2.2 (neuromuscular junction)
NMDA receptors (CNS neurons)
Stiff man, startle disease
Glycine and GABAA receptors (Spinal cord)
Rasmussen’s encephalitis
NMDA receptors and alpha7 nAChR (Brain hemisphere)
Rheumatoid arthritis
KCa1.1 and KV1.3

Assay platforms for

immunology and immuno-oncology

Electrophysiology and impedance applications

Our various platforms can be used to study immune cells, find treatments for auto-immune diseases, and inflammation, and support immune-oncology research.

Automated patch clamp electrophysiology can record voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels in immune cells, discover how they regulate and respond to cell activation, and identify drugs to treat inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. Modulators and blockers of potassium channels and cation channels (e.g. Orai-Stim), such as ShK toxin KV1.3 inhibitors, have been tested in cell lines and T-cells, on Port-a-Patch and SyncroPatch 384.

Impedance-based technology is emerging as a new, powerful tool to monitor the efficiency of various immune-oncology treatments, such as CAR T. Nanion’s AtlaZ impedance system enables label-free, continuous, real-time monitoring of cancer immune therapy effects in acute and chronic experiments that mirror in vivo treatment regimes, in a high throughput manner (simultaneous recordings of six 96 well plates). This approach gives researchers the necessary tools to gain deeper access to the kinetic and phenotypic cellular responses.

How can we help you?

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