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2020 Dystel Prize for MS Research Goes to Dr. Ian Duncan for Advances in Understanding Myelin Repair

May 11, 2020

  • The 2020 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research goes to Ian D. Duncan, BMVS, PHD, a neuroscientist and Professor of Neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Professor Duncan is being honored for his groundbreaking research on myelin (the protective nerve coating that is damaged in MS). He studies the development of myelin in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system -CNS), how myelin is injured in CNS disorders, particularly Duncan-1-e1457455633992-(1).jpgMS, and how myelin can be repaired.
  • The Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology. It was established by the late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his wife, Marion, in honor of their son, John Jay Dystel. Read more about previous Dystel Prize winners. 
“Professor Duncan has made a series of critical research advances that bring us closer to understanding how to restore function in people with MS by promoting myelin repair,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President of Research for the National MS Society.


Professor Duncan has focused on generating and testing the potential of myelinating cells by transplanting them into animal models of human disease, including MS and other myelin disorders. He has also made important observations related to the capability of brain cells to restore myelin in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system-CNS), and ways to detect whether myelin repair has occurred.
In nominating Prof. Duncan for the Dystel Prize, Lawrence Steinman, MD, (Stanford University), recipient of the 2004 Dystel Prize, said, “Dr. Duncan was one of the earliest investigators to tackle CNS repair in demyelinating disease and to uncover leads as to how to best achieve this. He has proven to be one of the early visionaries for this endeavor.”
“Dr. Duncan has been a leader in translating his laboratory findings to human disease,” said Bruce D. Trapp, PhD, Chairman of Neurosciences at the Cleveland Clinic and previous Dystel Prize winner. “For example, he identified a severe myelin disease model, through which he was able to provide unequivocal evidence that remyelination can restore neurological function. These studies have important implications for future clinical trials of remyelinating therapies in people living with multiple sclerosis.”
Prof. Duncan was one of the first researchers to come up with feasible ideas on how to achieve myelin repair in myelin-damaging disorders. Some of the advances that he has contributed to include:
  • Identifying a number of new myelin-related disorders in animals, some of which model human disorders.
  • Being among the first to transplant myelinating cells into the spinal cord of rodents.
  • Making extensive contributions to the understanding of oligodendrocytes, the central nervous system cells that make myelin.
  • Showing that large areas of the central nervous system could be myelinated by transplanted cells, and finding the cells that could best do this.
  • Developing the ability to follow transplanted cells by labeling them with nanoparticles that could be tracked using magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Making observations critical to research on therapies for myelin repair – by showing that myelin repair promotes recovery of function; that thin myelin sheaths that  form following repair can support nerve function; and that intact adult oligodendrocytes can engage in myelin repair after damage has occurred. 
  • Found biological signs that increasing speed of nerve signals reflects myelin repair, using a method called visual evoked potentials (VEP). This affirms the potential value of VEP in future clinical trials of myelin repair strategies for MS.
“I am extremely grateful to receive this award and to be recognized by my peers for my contributions to myelin research,” said Prof. Duncan. “I was fortunate to meet Oscar Dystel many years ago and hear about the accomplishments of his son, John. It is a great honor to join the distinguished list of past winners of the Dystel Prize.”

About the Prize: The Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology. The late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his late wife, Marion, established the Prize 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), Alastair Compston (2015), Claudia Lucchinetti (2016), Alan Thompson (2017), Frederik Barkhof (2018) and Anne Cross (2019). Read more about other Dystel Prize winners.
Biography: Ian D. Duncan, BMVS, PHD, is a Professor of Neurology in the Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a degree in veterinary medicine and a doctorate in experimental neuropathology from Glasgow University and was a research fellow of the Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Society in Montreal. His many honors include the Lifetime Excellence in Research Award from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association International Award for Scientific Achievement, Smith Kline and Beecham Faculty Research Award, and the Michael Falconer Distinguished Service Award. He was elected to the National MS Society’s Volunteer Hall of Fame in both the Professional and Outstanding Fundraiser categories. Prof. Duncan is a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters and a Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is a member of the Norwegian Stem Cell Center International Advisory Board and was a founding member and Chair of the Scientific Work Group, The Myelin Project.

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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