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Remyelination: The next frontier in progressive MS research

"Approved therapies for multiple sclerosis work by reducing the initial myelin injury — they do not promote myelin regeneration. My research supported in part by the MS Society of Canada could help find new drug targets to enhance myelin regeneration and help to restore lost function in people with multiple sclerosis."

— Dr. Veronique Miron, Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Remyelination: The process of tissue repair -- For remyelination to occur, oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) need to be recruited from within the central nervous system to the exact site of damage in the axon. Once the OPCs arrive, they must develop into mature oligodendrocytes, which are the actual myelin-producing cells. The mature oligodendrocytes then create new myelin around the damaged axons. Failure of any of these steps could prevent remyelination from occurring.

The MS Society of Canada is currently funding 10 studies dedicated to finding answers about myelin repair. Effective and timely repair of myelin —  the insulation wrapped around nerve fibres, termed axons, in the central nervous system that is damaged by immune cells in multiple sclerosis — is critical to avoiding exhaustion of nerve cells and further damage to tissue.

Remyelination is a complex and time sensitive process. Once a window of opportunity for myelin repair has passed, the ability for the nervous system to undergo repair decreases significantly— thus it is important to know exactly when and how repair can take place.

Remyelination may also protect the axons from vulnerability to further damage by immune cells. Recent research using mice with an MS-like disease has shown that axons that have been repaired appear to be protected from future degeneration. Whether this effect lasts over a long period of time is yet to be determined, but this evidence demonstrates that remyelination is a key step in reversing damage, preventing progression and improving physical recovery in all forms of MS.

While the development of therapies that encourage myelin repair is gaining more traction in the MS research community, many questions remain. Innovative work, such as Dr. Simon Zhornitsky’s MS Society funded research on the remyelinating abilities of an antipsychotic drug, has been conducted; however, more research is needed in this field to uncover new therapies that would enhance repair of nerve damage in people with all forms of MS.

Find out how you can help MS researchers like Dr. Zhornitsky in their work.

For more information on Canadian MS research, check out the latest copy of MS Research.

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