August 12, 2002, Monday
By Sarah Walch, The Battalion
Dr. Jane Welsh of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Mary Meagher, a professor in the Department of Psychology, have been working to discover a treatment for multiple sclerosis at Texas A&M University for the past five years.
In 1997, the two were introduced, discovered a common interest in the subject and have collaborated in an equal partnership ever since.
They have received many donations to continue their research efforts. In fall 1997, they received a grant of $ 25,000 from Texas A&M and in 1999 a grant of $ 313,000 from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, both intended to last four years.
In April, they received another grant of $ 1.5 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, also for a period of four years
MS is caused when the body's defense system begins to destroy myelin, the substance that surrounds and insulates nerve fibers.
This process is categorized as an auto immune process because it is an abnormal immune response directed against the central nervous system. Once nerve fibers are exposed, motor failures start to occur and an individual may experience paralysis. MS is a disease that primarily affects people between 20 and 50, is predominant in women and frequently affects those in northern, colder climates, according to the NMSS Web site.
Researchers are looking at how stress may affect the immune system's susceptibility to developing an MS-like disease, Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus.
Welsh and Meagher are focusing on how susceptible mice are to being infected with TMEV when under stress.
According to the NMSS Web site, three different types of stressors are being used for testing, and the role of stress hormones is being explored.
Meagher said her research focuses on whether clearance of the virus can occur only when the animal is stressed and the immune system suppressed.
Initially, it appears that during the early infection process, stress exacerbates the disease by increasing vulnerability and speeding the onset of the disease and development of symptoms, she said. Also, the early acute phase is more severe when the animal is stressed.
"Next we will focus on the specific neuromechanisms involved," Meagher said.
If the study eventually confirms these preliminary results, some treatments might include antidepressants and/or teaching coping mechanisms for individuals who are more likely to be susceptible to the disease, Meagher said.
Stress is not the only factor for the cause of MS. Meagher agrees with Welsh that genetics may also play a role.
"Within different mouse strains of TMEV, several genes that influence susceptibility have been identified. The cause is likely a complex genetic and environmental interaction," she said.
Dr. Jane Welsh was unavailable for comment.
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