A group of researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have developed a new potential drug-like molecule that is capable of halting inflammation in the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease that has no cure.

Since MS is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by an overactive immune system, finding a way to stop the damaging cycle of inflammatory responses was on the researchers’ agenda. The molecule, known as WEHI-345, binds to and inhibits an immune signaling protein, RIPK2, which halts the release of inflammatory cytokines — agents that are involved in fighting disease but may wreak havoc upon the body if they’re sent into overdrive.

“Inflammation results when our immune cells release hormones called cytokines, which is a normal response to disease,” Dr. Ueli Nachbur, an author of the study, said in the press release. “However, when too many cytokines are produced, inflammation can get out-of-control and damage our own body, all of which are hallmarks of immune or inflammatory diseases.”

The researchers used WEHI-345 in experimental models of MS, hoping to measure its effect on fighting the disease. They found that it was decently effective: “We treated preclinical models with WEHI-345 after symptoms of MS first appeared, and found it could prevent further progression of the disease in 40 percent of cases,” Professor Andrew Lew, another author of the study, said in the press release. “These results are extremely important, as there are currently no good preventive treatments for MS.”

There are currently a wide variety of research projects going on in the hopes of exploring MS and ways to halt its progression. Among them include searching for specific biomarkers of the disease, finding new ways to repair myelin (the coating around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord which are attacked in patients with MS), and even stem cell treatments.

The researchers hope that their study will be the starting point for further investigation into the anti-inflammatory effects of WEHI-345.

“This molecule will be a great starting point for a drug-discovery program that may one day lead to new treatments for MS and other inflammatory diseases,” Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene, another author of the study, said.