New Foundation-funded research: Multi-centre,
Multi-disciplinary Study Seeks Ways to Repair Myelin Damaged
Medical Update Memo
October 23, 2001
A large, collaborative research project, funded by the Multiple
Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation, is underway to find
out if the body's own cells can be transformed into a cellular
repair team to mend damage caused by multiple sclerosis. Coordinated
by Dr. Jack Antel of McGill University, leading researchers
at centres in Canada and the United States are tackling one
of the central problems in multiple sclerosis. When the disease
strikes, cells from the immune system attack myelin, the substance
that surrounds and protects the central nervous system. If damage
is severe, myelin can be damaged permanently leaving people
with long-term disability. The remyelination project involves
five top MS scientists at McGill University, the University
of Rochester, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Toronto and
the University of Calgary. It is funded for $3.5 million over
three years by the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation,
which is related to the MS Society of Canada.
A large, collaborative research project began this fall
to find out if the body's own cells can be transformed into
a cellular repair team to mend damage caused by multiple sclerosis.
The multi-centre, multi-disciplinary project is coordinated
by Dr. Jack Antel of McGill University and involves leading
researchers at centres in Canada and the United States. They
are tackling one of the central problems in multiple sclerosis.
It is funded for $3.5 million over three years by the Multiple
Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation, which is related to
the MS Society of Canada.
The remyelination project involves five top
MS scientists: Dr. Jack Antel, McGill University; Dr. Mark Noble,
University of Rochester (NY); Dr. Moses Rodriguez, Mayo Clinic,
Rochester, Minn; Dr. Derek van der Kooy, University of Toronto;
and Dr. Samuel Weiss, University of Calgary.
When the disease strikes, cells from the immune system attack
myelin, the substance that surrounds and protects the central
nervous system. If damage is severe, myelin can be damaged permanently
leaving people with long-term disability. Recently researchers
have recognized that some remyelination does occur in areas
of MS damage.
The goal of this project is to use immature
cells called progenitor cells and turn them into the right kind
of cell that will produce myelin where it is needed. There are
two basic ways to approach this challenge. One is to find ways
to turn the progenitor cells - also known as stem cells - that
already exist in the adult nervous system into myelin-making
cells. The second is to introduce progenitor cells from an external
source using surgical or transplantation techniques.
The scientists involved in this remyelination
project are using the body's own stem cells in the adult central
nervous system. This avoids invasive surgical procedures and
should overcome the limitations in the numbers of cells available
for transplantation and the problem of directing the cells to
the sites of injury. This multi-disciplinary team of neurologists
and basic scientists believe the approach of using the body's
own cells to repair myelin damage is particularly applicable
in a disease in which injury can occur in any part of the central
nervous system. If successful, this work should lead to specific
strategies for myelin repair.
The researchers are using a four-pronged approach to the problem,
which allows them to contribute their specialized expertise
in a collaborative environment.
Dr. Derek van der Kooy, University
of Toronto, and Dr. Mark Noble, University of Rochester
(NY), are trying to identify crucial molecules that control
the functions of cells at different stages of development. They
will also try to identify growth factors that could stimulate
the stem cells to become mature myelin-producing cells.
Dr. Samuel Weiss, University of Calgary,
will examine the properties of myelin lineage stem cells in
adult mice and determine what molecular mechanisms are responsible
for the cells' survival, expansion and maturation in the central
nervous system. In addition, he will evaluate the responses
of these cells to a range of growth factors, complementing the
work being done in the van der Kooy and Noble laboratories.
Dr. Moses Rodriguez, Mayo Clinic,
Rochester, Minn., will study whether adding growth factors to
the central nervous system of mice with an MS-like disease will
cause existing myelin lineage stem cells to increase myelin
production and begin to repair damaged tissue.
Moving to the human level, Dr. Jack Antel,
McGill University, will examine human central nervous tissue
for the presence of stem cells that have the same properties
as those identified in the animal studies. This will allow the
researchers to determine if these cells will respond to the
same growth factors. Of particular importance for Dr. Antel's
research group is whether the human stem cells are especially
susceptible to injury by immune system cells.
MS Scientific Research Foundation
"The MS Scientific Research Foundation is very pleased
to fund this project which has exciting implications for repairing
the damage that MS inflicts on the central nervous system. This
research team should produce answers to some of the most important
questions about MS," said Alexander R. Aird, chair of the
MS Scientific Research Foundation.
The MS Scientific Research Foundation
was established by the MS Society of Canada in 1973 to accumulate
funds in support of large collaborative studies or clinical
trials. It is funding multi-centre collaborative projects on
the genetic susceptibility to MS, bone marrow transplantation
and myelin gene regulation in addition to this new study. While
both the MS Society and the Foundation fund research, the MS
Society also has an extensive services program for people with
MS and their families. For more information, contact the nearest
MS Society of Canada division office by calling at 1-800-268-7582
or contact www.mssociety.ca
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is an independent,
voluntary health agency and does not approve, endorse or recommend
any specific product or therapy but provides information to
assist individuals in making their own decisions.