What if we could actually reverse the damage that MS causes, restoring function to those who have been living with the disease for years? MS occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin coating that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord; damage to nerve fibers — axons — also occurs, and underlies the progressive disability experienced by people with MS. The Nervous System Repair and Protection Initiative, funded through the Society’s Promise: 2010 Campaign, brought the dream of protecting and repairing brain tissue and restoring function within our grasp.
A specially convened National MS Society Task Force determined that the best way to speed up nerve tissue repair is to bring together experts in clinical trials and basic laboratory scientists to form partnerships. These teams could conduct all elements of the study from basic research to planning studies of neuroprotective drugs and repair strategies in people with MS.
Based on these recommendations, the Society awarded the largest grants ever made for research aimed at protecting and reversing neurological damage and restoring function in people with MS. Four teams in the U.S. and Europe used nearly $15 million to lay the groundwork for clinical trials by 2010. This funding level allowed scientists to attract more “heads and hands” to the problem, and to utilize the best available technology and develop needed new technologies to achieve our goals.
The four teams:
- Dr. Peter A. Calabresi (Johns Hopkins University) and collaborators searched for better ways to detect and quantify tissue injury in MS and testing agents that may protect the nervous system from further damage.
- Professor Charles ffrench-Constant (University of Edinburgh, UK) and colleagues focused on restoring myelin by identifying and amplifying natural repair factors in the brain and by attempting to transplant replacement cells.
- Dr. Gavin Giovannoni (Queen Mary University of London, UK) and collaborators attempted to turn cells into vehicles that would deliver repair molecules to sites of injury in the brain, and screened molecules for their protective properties as a prelude to clinical trials.
- Professor Ian D. Duncan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) led a multidisciplinary team to develop better imaging technologies such as PET and MRI to visualize myelin and nerve fiber damage, and to detect its repair. They also explored techniques for transplanting cells to promote repair.
Download a report (.pdf) evaluating the outcomes of this important initiative (
Read about the outcomes of the entire Promise:2010 initiative in an article from the Summer 2010 issue of Momentum. (.pdf)