The hope is to give patients just one jab
A single injection of modified cells could halt the advance of rheumatoid arthritis, say UK scientists.
The Newcastle University team is about to start small-scale safety trials of the jab, which will hopefully stop the immune system attacking the joints.
The Arthritis Research Campaign, which is funding the project, said if successful the treatment would be "revolutionary".
It could be fully tested and available within five years.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of a family of "autoimmune" diseases, in which the body's defence systems launch attacks on its own tissues.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this means painful inflammation and progressive damage to the joints, eased only slightly by courses of painkillers and immune dampening drugs.
The precise trigger for these attacks is not known, but the latest technique, so far tested only on cells in the laboratory, aims to "reset" the immune system back to its pre-disease state.
A sample of the body's white blood cells is taken and treated with a cocktail of steroids and vitamins which transforms a particular type of immune cell called a dendritic cell into a "tolerant" state.
These cells are then injected back into the joint of the patient.
Professor John Isaacs, who is leading the research, said: "Based on previous laboratory research we would expect that this will specifically suppress or down regulate the auto-immune response."
So far the team does not have any data about how well the treatment works in living creatures.
The next step is an initial safety trial involving just eight patients, although this could lead to further trials with higher number of patients.
Professor Alan Silman, from the Arthritis Research Campaign, said that, if successful, the treatment could make a big difference to patients.
He said: "The idea is to change these dendritic cells so that instead of being aggressive they return to their normal state.
"The presumption is that they will stay this way, unless the same trigger which is thought to cause the problem in the first place is encountered again.
"It could be a revolutionary development for rheumatoid arthritis patients."
He said that the technique would be labour-intensive, requiring specialist laboratory facilities, perhaps costing many thousands of pounds per injection, but this would still cost the NHS less than decades of prescription medicines to control the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
He also suggested that the same process might be applied to other auto-immune diseases such as type I diabetes, or even MS.