22 April 2002
Four new research grants totalling nearly £460,000 have been made by the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
They bring the Society's commitment to more than £11.5 million in funding for 68 projects, ranging from basic to applied science.
Three of the new grants are to investigate how immune cells enter the brain and attack the myelin coating which normally protects it and the central nervous system. They have been made to researchers in London, Southampton and Sheffield.
The fourth is to fund research in Oxford into changes in brain tissue, using a new and more sensitive kind of MRI scanning.
The four studies are:
Investigation of a new way to control the entry of immune cells into the brain
Professor John Greenwood, University College London
Professor Greenwood has already shown that drugs called statins can be used to improve symptoms in rats with a condition similar to MS.
Statins are thought to interfere with the molecular signals which lead to immune cells entering the brain. (They are also commonly used to treat high blood cholesterol.) This study will investigate exactly how the statins work in the brain. It will indicate whether the drugs might be useful to treat MS and whether clinical trials would be worthwhile.
Investigation of the molecular signals leading to inflammation in the brain
Professor Nicola Woodroofe, Sheffield Hallam University
This research will investigate whether a molecule called the ADAM 17 is one of the molecular signals which lead to myelin damage. It aims to discover how ADAM 17 can be controlled and if the molecule would be a useful target for new drugs.
Investigation of the role of macrophages in the brain
Professor Hugh Perry, University of Southampton
Macrophages are cells which line the blood vessels in the brain. They may have an important role in enabling immune cells to leave the bloodstream and enter the brain. To explore this possibility, this study will use a new technique to destroy the macrophages in the brains of rats. The researchers will see what effect this has on the immune cells' passage into the brain. (Note: Macrophage is Greek for ?big eater?.)
Defining changes in the structure and function of the brain in MS.
Professor Paul Matthews, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a unique window onto the human brain. Current MRI scans are limited to looking only at changes in brain tissue which are very different to normal tissue. This study will examine whether a new, more sensitive type of MRI can detect more subtle changes. Understanding and following these changes and comparing them to changes in disability and treatment responses will lead to a much deeper understanding of MS.