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Johns Hopkins Neuroscientist Wins Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research

February 18, 2021

-- Professor Dwight E. Bergles is set to be honored for his work toward understanding brain cells that repair myelin as part of the virtual Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum on February 25, 2021.

Dwight E. Bergles, Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist at The Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience and the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the winner of the 2020 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research.
Dr. Bergles has pioneered the study of immature cells in the brain that can regenerate myelin-making cells after myelin is destroyed in MS. These cells, oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), hold the key to finding ways to promote myelin repair and restore function for people living with multiple sclerosis.
“This prize honors the creative studies that our group has conducted to deepen our understanding of oligodendrocyte progenitors,” said Dr. Bergles. “I hope that the recognition of this award will encourage more young scientists to devote themselves to uncovering the mysteries of these remarkable cells and develop new therapeutic approaches to accelerate myelin repair in multiple sclerosis.”
“In addition to the major contributions Dr. Bergles and his team have made to advance myelin repair research, he and his lab have also developed advanced research tools that have made it possible to answer critical research questions that advance strategies to restore function and improve quality of life in people with MS,” said Bruce Bebo, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Research Programs at the National MS Society, which administers the award.
Dr. Bergles was first to show that OPCs form direct connections (synapses) with nerve cells in the brain, and that OPCs and nerve cells interact by way of chemical signals (neurotransmitters). Later his team found that this signaling regulates the behavior of OPCs in different brain regions, including determining whether they mature into specialized myelin-making cells, or remain dormant. This rapid means of communication, once thought to be exclusively used for signaling between neurons, provides a way for neurons to control myelination of their axons.
He has also been focusing on why OPCs often fail to regenerate mature oligodendrocytes in later phases of MS. His team generated mice whose OPCs glow with a flourescent tracer, and used high resolution imaging that enables the team to see and record the dynamic behavior of OPCs in real time in the living brain. This is providing completely new information about their speed of movement through the brain, their interactions with other cells and their responses to damage that foster myelin repair. This fundamental information is opening up the exploration of specific pathways for promoting myelin repair in MS.
The team was also first to discover that myelin regeneration after damage is variable depending on the brain region, suggesting that myelin repair strategies may need to take into account regional differences. Recently, Dr. Bergles was part of a team that discovered that OPCs may be co-opted by the immune system in MS to perpetuate the immune attacks on the brain and spinal cord. This suggests that inhibiting this immune activation of OPCs may be another strategy that could suppress the inflammation that leads to damage and disability in MS.
Dwight E. Bergles, PhD, is a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His research focuses on synaptic physiology, oligodendrocyte precursor cells, and aspects of central nervous system signaling between neurons and non-neuronal cells like OPCs. Dr. Bergles is Director of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, and serves as the Vice Chair of Research and Director of the Multiphoton Imaging Core in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience.
Dr. Bergles received his undergraduate degree in biology from Boston University, and his Ph.D. in molecular and cellular physiology from Stanford University. He completed postdoctoral training at the Vollum Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Dr. Bergles joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2000. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Research in Otolaryngology. In addition to receiving the 2020 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research, Dr. Bergles’ work has been recognized with several honors including an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship in 2002, a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in 2005, and a Daniel Nathans Scientific Innovator Award in 2017. He has served the research community as an expert peer reviewer for the National MS Society and other organizations, and is committed to helping to build the research workforce by mentoring graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
About the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research
The Barancik Prize seeks to recognize and encourage exceptional innovation and originality in scientific research relevant to multiple sclerosis, with emphasis on impact and potential of the research to lead to pathways for the treatment and cure for MS, and scientific accomplishments that merit recognition as a future leader in MS research. The international prize is administered through the National MS Society and made possible by the generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation.

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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