Glenn Matsushima, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Matsushima is a longtime MS researcher who has uncovered the function of several important molecules affecting the immune response. He received the Stephen C. Reingold Award in June for the year’s most outstanding research proposal, a project investigating FDA approved medicines that may reduce or halt progressive disability in MS.
What enticed you to get involved in MS research?
I had been interested in neuroimmunology very early in the field when immune molecules were first found in the brain. Over the years, I had been exposed to various models of demyelination [myelin damage] and studied immune responses that could lead to myelin damage. When people I know were diagnosed with MS and there were very few interventions, I tried to come up with alternative perspectives.
Your current grant, which earned you the Reingold Award, focuses on screening therapies already approved by the FDA for other disorders. What are you looking for?
From animal studies by my lab, we realized that certain factors may be able to delay or inhibit the early part of the demyelination. When other studies on MS patients did not result in reducing symptoms, we decided to search for chemical compounds that could enter the brain and prevent the death of the myelinating cells. We have certain compounds that appear promising but they require some modifications which we are now testing.
What do you think are some advantages of this approach?
We hope to find compounds that could be more easily adopted for clinical use and might be able to complement the current immunosuppressive drugs used to treat MS.
You are a member of a newly funded Collaborative MS Research Center led by Dr. Jenny Ting at Chapel Hill. What do you think this kind of collaborative model adds to research efforts?
The Center grant provides not only addition funds to promote research that the MS Society deems important, but the collaboration among several investigators is enhanced with greater interactions, the sharing of reagents and tools, and the fostering of new scientists into the group who may contribute new ideas to solve the issues of MS.
You also serve as a volunteer peer reviewer for the National MS Society. In what ways do you find current research promising for people with MS?
The MS Society has continued to be innovative in carrying out their mission to end MS and to provide ways for patients and caregivers to cope with the disease. The current research appears quite comprehensive in seeking new avenues to expand how we might be able to treat or prevent specific stages of MS. There might not be just one target but multiple targets toward which we may need to place our attention. I believe the innovative studies supported by the Society should result in new treatments for MS.
Is there anything else you find promising on the horizon that may help people with MS?
I believe studies on patients with MS or studies on autopsy samples remain critical to correlate disease to the animal studies. Several studies supported by the Society have helped researchers identify new genes that may be linked to the MS population and we continue to find new processes that lead to disease. Equally important, more attention is being placed on processes that promote repair or prevent damage to the brain. Currently, several groups have identified new targets and hopefully, this will lead to new treatments for MS.