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2014 John Dystel Prize for MS Research Goes To Prof. Barry Arnason at University of Chicago -- Laid the Groundwork for Knowledge and Treatment of Immune Attacks in MS

April 30, 2014

Barry Arnason, MD, James Nelson & Anna Louise Raymond Professor of Neurology at the University of Chicago, has been chosen by a committee of his peers to receive the National MS Society/American Academy of Neurology’s 2014 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research. Dr. Arnason is being honored for fundamental insights into the immune attacks that are launched on the brain and spinal cord in MS. These insights helped lay the groundwork for the development of immune-directed therapies in MS.  The $15,000 prize is being presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia.

“Through a series of ground-breaking contributions, Dr. Arnason changed our view of the immune attack in MS and enabled the first immunomodulating treatments to reach the clinic,” says Timothy Coetzee, PhD, Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer of the National MS Society. “These accomplishments are heightened by those of the numerous scientists and clinicians whom he has trained who are now making their own mark on the field of MS research.”

Dr. Arnason’s contributions:

Immunology: Dr. Arnason and colleagues were first to describe the role of a specific type of immune cell, called T cells, in the MS-like disease EAE. They then found that EAE did not develop in rats in which the thymus (from which T cells originate) was removed at birth, demonstrating that T cells controlled EAE. Dr. Arnason and colleagues also first showed that T cells known as CD8 regulatory T cells are dysfunctional in MS. They showed that the function of these cells was linked with disease activity, dictating whether MS is active, progressive, or stable.  He also studied the role of sex hormones in modulating EAE, a topic of continuing research and one being carried into clinical trials. His lab is still breaking new paths, recently developing bioengineered molecules that inhibit EAE and might be developed as a therapeutic strategy for MS.

Neuroimmunology: Dr. Arnason’s team conducted research to describe how damage in the nervous system can affect the immune system. In progressive MS, he described how damage to the spinal cord leads to increased activity of certain docking sites on immune cells, suggesting a vicious circle of immune changes, damage, and more immune activation. In this field, Dr. Arnason also spearheaded scientific discoveries that contributed greatly to the understanding of other disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and myasthenia gravis.

“There is virtually no part of modern MS care that Dr. Arnason has not been involved in helping mold,” noted Elizabeth Hartman, MD, who nominated him for the prize. “Both basic and clinical MS care have been advanced by his wealth of contributions.”

MS Therapies: Dr. Arnason led the way in the development of the first disease-modifying MS therapy, as an early advocate for using interferon beta as a therapy and as a key leader in the clinical trials. He and team have conducted 45 MS clinical trials. He has also performed multiple independent and novel studies of new agents for MS and its complications, leading to new treatments for trigeminal neuralgia (intense facial pain) and for enhancing the effects of interferon.

Dr. Arnason’s group contributed significantly to defining the properties of immune components in the blood, spinal fluid, and brain of MS patients. His work contributed to the development of biologic tests to monitor the effects of immune-modulating treatment. 

Sharing knowledge: Dr. Arnason is known for his mentorship of others. He trained two Dystel prize winners – Drs. Howard Weiner and Jack Antel -- and dozens of other leading figures who have gone on to make fundamental discoveries in MS and related diseases. He also mentored Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Bruce Beutler.

Dr. Arnason is an author on more than 400 scientific papers that focus on autoimmunity and neurological diseases. Dr. Arnason currently serves on the editorial boards of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, The Journal of Autoimmunity, and the International MS Journal, and has previously served on the editorial boards of Acta Neurologica Scandinavia, Clinical Aspects of Autoimmunity, Journal of Contemporary Neurology, Journal of Neuroimmunology, and Journal of Neuroimmunomodulation, among others. He is an invited lecturer at institutions and hospitals worldwide.

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 Honorary Life National Board of Directors 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), and George Ebers (2013). Read more about other Dystel Prize winners.

Biography: Barry G.W. Arnason MD is the James Nelson and Anna Louise Raymond Professor of Neurology at the University of Chicago. He earned his medical degree and completed an internship at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. Dr. Arnason then completed a residency in neurology and a clinical fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, along with research and teaching fellowships at Harvard Medical School. He joined the faculty of these institutions in 1964, and in 1976, became Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Chicago. He has served on medical advisory boards for the Greater Illinois Chapter of the National MS Society, MS International Federation, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Society of America, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association, among others. Dr. Arnason earned the CMSC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and has been named to America’s Best Doctors list since 2001.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. 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. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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