Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are studying how myelin might be repaired, in an attempt to reverse the damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS). The more than £2 million, five-year research grant is jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust, in its first Investigator Award for Northern Ireland, and by the BBSRC, the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council of the U.K.
In MS, a demyelinating disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, disrupting communication between the brain and the rest of the body and often causing the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.
“Through these very generous grants we are now able to pursue the holy grail of reversing the damage caused by MS,” Dr. Denise Fitzgerald, principal investigator at the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said in a recent news release. “At the moment the treatments for patients limit the recurrence of relapses but none currently reverse the damage already done. Our research aims to understand how the damage done to the myelin can be repaired with a view to making an entirely new class of treatments for MS and other myelin disorders.”
The research program, the biggest MS study presently underway in Northern Ireland, received a £1,673,610 grant from the Wellcome Trust and £467,333 from the BBSRC.
“This is a really innovative study looking at the way the immune system and the central nervous system interact. Investigating how certain immune cells can influence the repair of myelin will provide novel insights on the biology of this important process, and the results could pave the way for future therapies for debilitating diseases such as MS,” said Giovanna Lalli, Neuroscience Senior Portfolio Developer at Wellcome Trust.
“We’re actually able to really expand what we’re already doing [though these grants] as well as start new streams of research. And it will also allow us to do more studies with clinicians,” Fitzgerald said in a video announcing the award.
Early MS symptoms include weakness, tingling, numbness, and blurred vision. Treatment can relieve MS symptoms and delay disease progression, but offers no cure.
Below is a video on the MS research project underway at Queens University.