All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2004

Focus Shifts For Multiple Sclerosis Research

Researchers Hope To Manipulate Genes To Repair Damage

April 16, 2004

They call themselves the "Frank & Joe Show," a jazz combo that regularly plays the clubs in New York. Joe Ascione is a drummer, a percussionist and a multiple sclerosis patient.

"I felt a little tingling sensation at the fingertips, and shortly thereafter, my hands seemed to get numb," said Ascione.

Ascione was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. At this stage, others can't tell he has multiple sclerosis. But eventually, it will probably interfere with his music and his life, unless researchers continue to make progress.

"In the last few years, there has been a real explosion in our ability to understand how to repair damage in the brain and in the spinal cord that has taken place because of multiple sclerosis," said Dr. Stephen Reingold, of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Until recently, research has focused on stopping the damage multiple sclerosis causes. This damage happens when the immune system attacks the insulation, called myelin, surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord -- essentially short-circuiting the electrical impulses in the central nervous system.

"The cells which make myelin, which we call oligodendrocytes, also die, and these cells don't come back," said Dr. Cedric Raine, of the Einstein College Of Medicine in New York. "So you are left with an area of total damage, lacking myelin, no function, no conduction, and a patient will consequently display symptoms depending on where these lesions are occurring."

Now, new areas of research are working on getting those insulation-making oligodendrocyte cells to return and repair the damage to the myelin, or insulation.

"We know the genes," said Raine. "We know the factors which regulate those genes, so if we can manipulate these genes and get them to come on at the right times, we can bring oligodendrocytes into the lesions and make them function in a way which ends up with them making myelin in those areas."

Copyright © 2004, KIRO