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Cutting-edge brain science by UCSF researcher wins first Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research

September 17, 2013

Sep 17, 2013

-- Dr. Jonah Chan wins for creating cutting-edge and cost-effective technologies to solve the challenge of brain repair for people with MS

Neuroscientist Jonah Chan, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, is the first recipient of a new international prize launched to recognize innovation and progress in multiple sclerosis (MS) research. Dr. Chan, Associate Professor of Neurology and holder of the Debbie and Andy Rachleff Endowed Chair in Neurology, is being presented with the award and $100,000 cash prize at a luncheon here in New York to recognize his pioneering work that applies new technologies to the search for ways to stimulate brain repair in people who have MS.

“The Barancik Prize was established to spur international progress toward stopping MS, restoring function and ending MS forever and we’re proud to present the first award to Dr. Chan for his unique and innovative research into brain repair in MS,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer at the National MS Society. “Dr. Chan’s bold thinking has the potential to transform the treatment of MS and is exactly the kind of accomplishment that we aim to recognize with the Barancik Prize,” he continued.

“We believe in the power and influence that one creative and driven individual can have on the course of future events in creating a world free of MS,” said Charles and Margery Barancik.

For this inaugural prize, the National MS Society received 27 nominations. Five finalists presented their work to a selection committee, which was comprised of leading MS advocates and research experts. “Selecting the first award winner out of five incredibly inventive and accomplished MS researchers was a real challenge,” commented MS advocate/selection committee member Ms. Monia Joblin. “It is heartening to see the amazing progress being made by scientists on behalf of people who have MS,” she continued.

Among the accomplishments for which he was recognized, Dr. Chan invented new nanofiber and micropillar technologies to rapidly identify compounds that stimulate the regrowth of the myelin nerve casing, which is damaged in MS.  The “Binary Indicant for Myelination on Micropillar Arrays” (BIMA) uses arrays of fabricated “micropillars” that simulate nerve fibers. Myelin-making cells called oligodendrocytes form myelin around each micropillar, looking somewhat like the rings of a tree, enabling the team to study functional myelination. Dr. Chan has automated the detection and quantification of the myelin rings, and he is now testing thousands of compounds, including some FDA approved drugs, to develop a pipeline of novel and known agents that may promote remyelination and repair in MS.  By starting with FDA approved drugs, Dr. Chan hopes to identify candidate therapies that have already been shown to be safe for use in humans and can be rapidly moved into clinical trials in people with MS.  This strategy could shave years off the development of important new treatments.

“Receiving the Barancik prize is a great honor, especially as I consider the other nominees to be such extraordinary scientists and clinicians. This prize acknowledges not only my efforts, but also the efforts of my colleagues and the talented students and postdocs that I have had the pleasure to work with. This award validates our work, encourages us to more daring in our science, and is a reminder that it is a privilege to contribute to something greater than ourselves.”

Early in his career, Dr. Chan’s work broke new ground by identifying factors that both promote and inhibit myelin formation.  In addition, he initiated studies on how the “microenvironment” of the nerve cell could influence the cell-fate of the oligodendrocyte precursor cell, and its differentiation into mature myelin-forming oligodendrocytes.

Biographical Sketch - Dr. Chan

Jonah Chan, PhD, is an accomplished neuroscientist who is an Associate Professor of Neurology and the Debbie and Andy Rachleff Endowed Chair in Neurology, at UCSF.  He received undergraduate training in biochemistry and earned a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and held a postdoctoral fellowship in Neurobiology at Stanford University. Dr. Chan was awarded a National MS Society career transition fellowship that successfully took him to his first faculty position at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, where at the age of 37 he also won the prestigious Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Award, which is given by the National MS Society to promising young MS researchers.  He moved to UCSF in 2010. Dr. Chan serves as a scientific peer reviewer for the Society and on the Board of Directors for its Northern California chapter. He is an accomplished mentor, and has inspired young people toward careers in neuroscience and MS research. He was nominated by Stephen L. Hauser, MD, Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Neurology, University of California at San Francisco.

About the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research

The 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 made possible by the generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik SO Foundation, and is administered through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Any investigator(s) active in MS research is eligible for the Barancik prize, and the nominee(s) may be from any institution or organization -- public or private, government, as well as commercial entities. Nominees may also be at any stage of their professional career in MS research. Nominations for the 2014 Barancik Prize will be accepted from November 1, 2013 until the January 31, 2014 deadline. Read more.

About the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society

The Northern California Chapter of the National MS Society was chartered in 1954 and provides comprehensive programs, services and advocacy to assist and empower the more than 84,000 people who are affected by MS annually. The chapter is also a driving force of research for the prevention, treatment and cure of MS and contributes funds to support 350 National MS Society research projects worldwide – including almost $12 million in critical MS research initiatives locally at J. David Gladstone Institutes, UCSF, Stanford, UC Davis and UC Berkeley. The Chapter has offices in San Francisco, Sacramento, Central Valley and Silicon Valley.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. 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. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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