Dr. Claudia Lucchinetti, chair of the Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic and the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professor of Neurosciences, has received the 2016 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research, an honor jointly awarded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).
The award, accompanied by a $15,000 prize, was given to Dr. Lucchinetti for her outstanding contributions and groundbreaking research into neuroinflammation and the mechanisms of demyelination, and for creating the world’s largest tissue bank of multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions, greatly contributing to the development of new patient-centered therapies in MS.
Dr. Lucchinetti’s work has focused on several aspects of MS pathogenicity, namely demyelination, the process that damages the protective myelin surrounding neurons and nerve fibers. She also is focused on tissue injury characteristic of central nervous system (CNS) demyelination disorders, which, besides MS, include neuromyelitis optica, and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.
For 20 years, since she first began collecting MS lesion brain biopsies for analysis, she has contributed to the understanding of MS lesions, noting how these differ between patients but remain similar within a given patient. Her findings helped lead to the realization that MS is a disease with different targets and mechanisms depending on the patient, cementing the knowledge that individualized medicine, in which therapies are designed for a specific patient, is essential to an effective MS therapy.
Her landmark 2001 study, “Heterogeneity of multiple sclerosis lesions: Implications for the pathogenesis of demyelination,” published in the journal Annals of Neurology, led to the launch of the MS Lesion Project, an international effort funded by the National MS Society and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), that investigates the clinical, serologic, genetic, and radiological aspects of MS lesions.
“As someone who has worked side-by-side with Dr. Lucchinetti, I can say first-hand that she is a thought leader sought out by colleagues around the world,” John Noseworthy, MD, president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said in a news release. “Her expertise not only advances our understanding of the disease, but also moves the field forward to the benefit of patients at Mayo Clinic and people everywhere.”
One of the few experts in neuroinflammation, Dr. Lucchinetti has also greatly contributed to the understanding of early inflammatory cortical demyelination and cortical damage, a critical driver of MS progression, characterizing its presence in MS pathogenesis and opening avenues for early detection and new therapeutic approaches.
The researcher decided to pursue a career in MS after caring for a young mother who eventually died of a rare and aggressive form of MS. The experience prompted the doctor to devote her work to better understanding the disease and improving patient care. “I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to have been selected for this award,” Dr. Lucchinetti said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to work with a diverse group of investigators here at Mayo Clinic, all very passionate about wanting to make a difference in the lives of our patients.”