U of C study hopes to find treatment for MS

While much of the world looks hopefully towards Italy and Paolo Zamboni’s new “liberation” therapy for the next step of Multiple Sclerosis treatment, a team of University of Calgary researchers are heading in a new direction. Faculty of medicine professor and Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada medical advisory committee chair V. Wee Yong and postdoctoral fellow in Yong’s lab Smriti Agrawal are trying to find a new treatment for MS in Canada, a country with one of the highest rates of the disease in the world.

“Further down the road, we could be developing a therapeutic target for MS,” said Agrawal.

Multiple Sclerosis is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that tends to strike females most and generally begins producing symptoms in young adulthood, although it has been diagnosed in children as young as two. The disease causes degeneration of the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves. These sheaths act as insulators that speed up the rate at which the central nervous system can transmit and receive messages, so their destruction causes a variety of neurological symptoms.

A study being carried out at the Yong lab is investigating the role of EMMPRIN, a molecule, in Multiple Sclerosis. Mice treated with an EMMPRIN function-blocking antibody had reduced symptoms and lower levels of white blood cell, or leukocyte, infiltration.

The findings of the recent study provide a new possible target for MS therapies. According to Agrawal, the research could lead to the development of therapeutic targets for MS, but she cautions the research will take time.

“Most things take about 10-15 years to go from bench to bedside, so that is what we would assume for this study as well,” she said.

An MS patient with the progressive form of the disease, who wished not to be named, thinks the research is exciting.

“It’s always great to hear about research that might someday lead to a cure,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t end up helping my treatment, preventing others from going through the same things is important.”

The study is funded by an annual grant of $163,317 from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research over a four year period scheduled to end in 2014.

The new findings on EMMPRIN are available in the January 12, 2011 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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