Volume 1, Summer, 2003
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
A Message from the President
I am very pleased to present you with the first in a series of bulletins designed to bring you up-to-date on the progress of MS research.
The MS Society funds research on a variety of fronts, all of them designed to deepen our understanding of the disease, leading to more effective treatments for MS.
We’ve outlined a number of those efforts in this newsletter.
Behind all our research is one central theme: to improve the quality of life for people with MS … and to cure it on behalf of generations to come.
The cure we seek may not become available today or even tomorrow. But rest assured, in the not too distant future, we will develop a cure for MS. And, when we do, it will be thanks to the research that is being conducted today.
Alistair M. Fraser
Society of Canada
Research Results Provide New Hope for Myelin Repair
Once myelin, the protective cover of the nerve fibres, is damaged, can it ever be repaired? The answer to that question will hold the key to dramatic new treatments for people already living with MS nerve damage.
Recently, Dr. Jack Antel, one of Canada’s leading MS neurologists and MS researchers, was able to provide hope that myelin repair is a very real possibility.
He is leading a major collaborative study of myelin repair funded by the MS Scientific Research Foundation. The MS Society is the Foundation’s primary funding source. In the study, researchers are determining what cells are responsible for the repair of myelin.
Dr. Antel believes that stem cells may hold the key.
"Some of the questions we are asking," he says, "are what kinds of signals do stem cells receive to give them directions to become a certain kind of cell?".
Current data suggests that the spontaneous recoveries from MS attacks are due to stem cells in the brain "getting back to work" and producing more myelin, which is then wrapped — at least partially – a round the nerve fibres.
Looking directly at myelin repair, investigators are examining a variety of techniques which include; increasing the number of myelin making cells in the central nervous system, as well as stimulating existing cells to become myelin-making cells.
D r. Antel, at the Montreal Neurological Institute, and his colleagues at the other hospitals and universities in this important collaborative effort, are tackling the problem by trying to find out how to stimulate adult stem cells to become full-fledged myelin producing cells and get back to work making myelin.
Other researchers are looking at ways to transplant stem cells from external sources into the central nervous system.
Of course, any therapeutic strategy will need to include continued efforts to stop the immune attack on the central nervous system, Dr. Antel points out. "If we don’t have as much injury in the first place, we won’t have as big a repair problem."
But he adds, "once there is damage to the myelin and nerve fibres, then clearly it will be time to move to myelin repair with the techniques we are developing right now."
"By using both approaches, we’ll make a bigger impact in the course of MS."
Groundbreaking Study Investigates Genetic Susceptibility to Multiple Sclerosis
A Canadian study of genetics in MS, which has already made enormous strides in our understanding of this baffling disease, has been granted another $5.1 million over three years to continue its vital research.
"The project is demonstrating the cause of MS is complex, determined by many genes each having a small, individual effect" say Drs. George Ebers and Dessa Sadovnick, the study’s directors.
"When we began this work," they state, "many people doubted that heredity [genes] had any role in the development of MS."
The Canadian collaborative project, is the world’s largest study of genetic susceptibility in MS. It involves 18 MS clinics in Canada and 19,000 people with MS and their families. It has also demonstrated that although genes are important, non-genetic or environmental factors are also critical.
"In some families," Dr. Ebers explains, "such as the 45 families in the study who have four or more affected individuals, a single gene seems to play a big role.
Environmental factors are also important and act at a population level to strongly influence whether the genetically susceptible will get the disease."
The next phase of the project is looking in detail at potential environmental factors affecting MS, including early life events and diseases, exposure to sunlight, patterns of migration, birth order, and month of birth.
MS Society Commits $3.8 Million for Research
Thanks in great part to the understanding leadership and commitment of the chapters, the MS Society of Canada is committing in 2003 an additional $3.8 million to innovative multi-year research. This amount is a 27% increase over funding in 2002.
Fully half of the research projects are focused on getting to the bottom of what goes wrong with the immune system to cause it to start attacking the central nervous system. Much of the success in MS therapies in recent years is directly related to immune system research.
In addition, the funding will support 12 postdoctoral fellow ships, 32 studentships, and one career development award.
Though research into MS has been conducted for decades, it comes as a surprise to many when they learn that the most important advancements have come in the last ten years.
Decade of Research Accomplishments
Key advances include:
At the same time, current research is investigating new ways to reverse
neurological symptoms already present – and repair the damage done to the
central nervous system.
Copyright © 2003, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada