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2016 John Dystel Prize for MS Research Goes to Prof. Claudia Lucchinetti at the Mayo Clinic -- For Contributions to Understanding How MS Impacts the Brain and Translating That Understanding to Patient Care

April 14, 2016

Summary
  • Claudia Lucchinetti, MD, Chair of Neurology and the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professor in Neurosciences at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, has been chosen by a committee of her peers to receive the National MS Society/American Academy of Neurology’s 2016 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research.
  • Professor Lucchinetti is being honored for her seminal contributions to understanding the neuropathology of MS – how the disease damages brain and spinal cord tissues -- and translating this understanding into better care for people with MS.
  • The $15,000 Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology, and is funded through a research fund established by the late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his late wife Marion in honor of their son John Jay Dystel.
Details
Claudia Lucchinetti, MD, Chair of Neurology and the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professor in Neurosciences at the Mayo Clinic  (Rochester, MN), has been chosen by a committee of her peers to receive the National MS Society/American Academy of Neurology’s 2016 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research. Professor Lucchinetti is being honored for her seminal contributions to understanding the neuropathology of MS, and translating this understanding into better care for people with MS. The $15,000 prize is being presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
 
“Professor Lucchinetti’s research changed the way we look at MS,” says Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President, Research at the National MS Society. “She has dedicated her career to deciphering how MS damages tissues in the brain and spinal cord. But her focus is broader than just laboratory research; she is also dedicated to improving the diagnosis and treatment of MS. This is a reflection of her deep commitment to helping people who live with MS, and make her a very worthy recipient of the Dystel Prize.”
 
Dr. Lucchinetti’s contributions include:
 
Identifying Different Types of Damage through the MS Lesion Project:
In 2000, Prof. Lucchinetti and colleagues Drs. Hans Lassmann (Medical University of Vienna) and Wolfgang Bruck (University Medical Center Göttingen) published a landmark paper that was the first to identify four distinct patterns of myelin destruction in the brains of people with MS. (Annals of Neurology 2000;47:707‐17)  Based on these results, this team, with collaborators in the U.S., Germany and Austria, launched the most extensive attempt ever to map and understand the meaning of MS damage in the brain. They amassed an unprecedented collection of tissue samples from more than 1,000 people with MS, obtained from brain biopsies (a rare procedure done when the diagnosis was suspected to be a brain tumor) or autopsies. By identifying four distinct kinds of lesion patterns, Dr. Lucchinetti and her collaborators:
  • Changed the way researchers think about MS.
  • Discovered that unique antibody patterns are associated with different lesion patterns, which could lead to a blood test to help inform treatment decisions.
  • Made significant gains in understanding when lesions form and how tissue is damaged, opening up new possibilities for strategies to stop that damage. For example, the team found that those whose lesion pattern included immune proteins known as “antibodies” were more responsive to plasma exchange therapy (a blood-cleansing technique that has been used for severely progressive MS), while those without such a lesion pattern were less responsive.
An additional grant from the National Institutes of Health made it possible for these investigators to continue making discoveries about variations in MS that may ultimately drive treatment decisions and increase our understanding of the cause of MS. In 2011, Dr. Lucchinetti and a team of investigators showed that early inflammatory damage to the cortex (the outer part of the brain) was present in brain tissue samples from 38% of people who went on to develop MS. Understanding the sequence and timing of nervous system-damaging events in MS should offer new opportunities for blocking this damage to stop MS disease progression. (The New England Journal of Medicine 2011;365:2188-97).
 
Understanding How Neuromyelitis Optica Differs from MS:
In 2002, Prof. Lucchinetti published a paper that laid the groundwork for understanding neuromyelitis optica (NMO) as a disease distinct from MS. Her team conducted extensive pathology analysis of tissue obtained from people with MS and NMO and reported significant differences in immune system activity. Furthermore, their findings suggested that NMO was an antibody-mediated disease targeting a perivascular protein. (Brain 2002;125:1450). In parallel, a series of papers with her Mayo colleagues, Drs. Vanda Lennon, and Brian Weinshenker (a previous winner of the John Dystel Prize), reported an antibody biomarker for NMO and demonstrated that the target of this auto‐antibody was a component of specific brain cells (astrocyte water channel aquaporin 4), that surrounds blood vessels. Thanks to their work, a simple blood test can help neurologists identify people at risk for NMO, allowing appropriate treatment to be initiated early and hopefully reduce the damage caused by this disease.
 
“Uniquely among those doing tissue pathology, Claudia has worked on the implications of this research tirelessly, being spurred by the need to translate insights from tissue pathology into treatment and monitoring patients,” says Dr. Richard Ransohoff (formerly of Cleveland Clinic, now at Biogen), a previous winner of the Dystel Prize who helped nominate Prof. Lucchinetti. “She has deployed clinical trials, longitudinal follow-up, brain imaging, biomarker studies, genetics and proteomics in this effort. Her success in this endeavor is a pure testament to skill, determination and commitment to the betterment of patients.”
 
Sharing Knowledge:
Prof. Lucchinetti has become one of a handful of world authorities in experimental and applied neuropathology research in the area of demyelinating and inflammatory central nervous diseases including MS. She has published more than 170 research papers.
 
Prof. Lucchinetti has been an outstanding mentor to numerous fellows from all over the world, many of whom have become faculty members at the Mayo Clinic or their home country’s institutions. She is a highly sought after speaker for invited national and international lectures and educational courses.
 
About the Prize: The $15,000 Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology, and is funded through the Society’s John Dystel Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund. The late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his late wife Marion established this fund in 1994 in honor of their son John Jay Dystel, an attorney whose promising career was cut short by progressive disability from MS. (John died of complications of the disease in June 2003.) Previous winners of the Prize are Drs. Donald Paty (1995), Cedric Raine (1996), John Kurtzke (1997), Henry McFarland (1998), W. Ian McDonald (1999), Kenneth Johnson (2000), John Prineas (2001), Stephen Waxman (2002), Bruce Trapp (2003), Lawrence Steinman (2004), Jack Antel (2005), William Sibley (2006), Howard Weiner (2007), Stephen Hauser (2008), David Miller (2009), David Hafler (2010), Brian Weinshenker (2011), Richard Ransohoff (2012), George Ebers (2013), Barry Arnason (2014), and Alistair Compston (2015). Read more about other Dystel Prize winners.
 
Biography: Claudia F. Lucchinetti, MD, received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her MD from Rush Medical College. After internship at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, she completed neurology residency and a neuroimmunology fellowship at Mayo Clinic. Subsequently, she studied experimental neuropathology as a Mayo Foundation Scholar at the Brain Research Institute in Vienna. She has served as chair of the Division of Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology; associate director of the Mayo Center of Inflammatory Demyelinating Disorders;; chair of the Mayo Research Personnel Committee, and chair of the Clinical Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumor study section (CNBT) at the National Institute of Health. She is currently the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professor in Neurosciences and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her honors include the Frontiers in Neuroscience Award from the American Academy of Neurology.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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