(HARTLAND, WISCONSIN) – The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has committed more than $21 million to support an expected 78 new MS research projects. These are part of a comprehensive research strategy aimed at stopping MS, restoring function that has been lost, and ending the disease forever for every single person with MS. More than $1.3 million of these funds are allocated for scientists in Wisconsin.
This financial commitment is the latest in the Society’s research efforts to move closer to a world free of MS, and part of a projected investment of over $53 million in 2015 alone to support more than 380 new and ongoing studies around the world.
The Society pursues all promising paths in MS research while focusing on priority areas including progressive MS, nervous system repair, gene/environmental risk factors, and wellness and lifestyle. Just a few of the new cutting-edge research projects include a study at Baylor College of Medicine investigating a protein that may play a role in myelin repair and replacement of lost nerve cells, two events that may improve progressive MS; a Scottish investigation of whether adult stem cells from the nose hold promise for nervous system tissue repair; an exploration of whether brain circuits are connected to the profound fatigue experienced by people with MS; and a study at Harvard University exploring whether exposure to air pollution is associated with MS risk. In addition, three new commercial partnerships are propelling the development of treatments for people with progressive MS.
“These new research investments are intended to answer questions that address the unmet needs of people with MS,” noted Colleen G. Kalt, president and CEO of the Society’s Wisconsin Chapter. “We are funding scientific breakthroughs that will propel the knowledge we need to end MS and identify everyday solutions that change the lives of people with all forms of the disease.”
Multiple sclerosis interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. 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. Here in Wisconsin, MS affects more than 11,000 families, giving the state what is believed to be one of the higher prevalence rates in the nation. Worldwide, over 2.3 million people live with the unpredictable challenges of multiple sclerosis.
To find the best research with the most promise, the National MS Society relies on more than 130 world-class scientists who volunteer their time to carefully evaluate hundreds of proposals every year. This rigorous evaluation process assures that Society funds fuel research that delivers results in the shortest time possible.
The Society will fund new projects to two scientists in Wisconsin:
• Bonnie Dittel, PhD, of the Blood Research Institute, BloodCenter of Wisconsin received a grant of $706,686 to investigate how a subset of immune “B cells” reduces inflammation, for clues to harnessing this power to stop MS. (In MS, the immune system damages tissues in the brain and spinal cord, and finding a way to reduce or stop this immune response, which includes inflammation, may be key to stopping MS in its tracks. The immune system has its own mechanisms for reducing inflammation, one of which is mediated by an immune cell type called B cells.)
• Ian Duncan, BVMS, PhD, FRSE, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison received a grant of $693,682 to explore factors controlling the repair of myelin and ways to non-invasively detect and enhance repair. (Myelin is the nerve-insulating coating that promotes nerve signaling in the brain and spinal cord. It is damaged in MS and often the body’s natural repair processes cannot keep up, leaving nerve fibers vulnerable and unable to send signals properly. One possible way of protecting nerves from destruction in MS is to facilitate myelin repair.)
“This funding will provide support for our long running project investigating the role of B lymphocytes in attenuating disease severity in MS and will be used in part to move our research into the study of regulatory B cells in humans,” Dittel said.
“We’re trying to explore the cellular and molecular aspects of myelin loss and repair,” Duncan said. “And using MRI, confirm the imaging correlate of myelin breakdown, remyelination and axon loss.”
There are FDA-approved therapies that can impact the underlying disease course in people with the more common forms of MS. However, none of these can stop progression or reverse the damage to restore function. National MS Society-funded research paved the way for existing therapies–none of which existed 25 years ago–and continues to be a driving force of MS research. Details about the new research awards are available online.