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 http://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.
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
250 Bloor Street East, Suite 1000
Toronto, Ontario M4W 3P9
Telephone: (416) 922-6065
Facsimile: (416) 922-7538
Toll free to reach nearest division
office: 1 800 268-7582
© 2001 Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada