The MS Society in the United Kingdom awarded £177,930 (about $217,800) to Dr. Sassan Hafizi, a researcher at University of Portsmouth, to investigate the potentially beneficial role of a central nervous system molecule, called Gas6, in repairing the myelin damage seen in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) .
Hafizi and Dr. Arthur Butt, a professor of cellular neurophysiology at the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, have previously shown that Gas6 may be a regulator of myelination in the brain, promoting myelin remodeling and repair both by increasing the number of oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system and by reducing immune system responses so as to prevent further damage.
In this project, Hafizi will examine the workings of Gas6 in mice with an MS-like condition, and investigate ways to target Gas6 in an effort to boost the brain’s natural myelin repair process.
“I am delighted that the MS Society has made this substantial award to support my research, which ultimately could help scientists develop new treatments to slow or even stop the worsening of the disability that results from nerve damage,” said Hafizi in a news release. “Currently there are no treatments available to help repair damage caused by MS, which makes this research all the more urgent.”
This is the second project that the MS Society has funded at the University of Portsmouth within the past year. Dr. Butt was also awarded £198,196 (around $242,600) to investigate the role of a molecule called GSK3 in the creation of myelin sheaths around nerves.
“This is wonderful news, and a reflection of the exceptional work carried out by our researchers in this highly specialised area,” said Professor Sabbir Ahmed, head of the biomedical sciences school. “The award is especially significant as it’s unprecedented for two investigators in the same university — outside the main MS research centres of Edinburgh and Cambridge — to have independently gained funding from the MS Society.”
Dr. Sorrel Bickley, head of Biomedical Research at the MS Society, added: “The MS Society is very pleased to support the excellent research into MS being done at the University of Portsmouth. Developing treatments that promote myelin repair is a priority for us and we believe Dr. Sassan Hafizi’s study of Gas6 is a promising area of research.”
He added: “More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK. It’s unpredictable and different for everyone but can cause problems with how people walk, move, see, think and feel. The MS Society invests over £4 million in research each year and we’re committed to developing effective treatments for all forms of MS.”
Affecting up to 2.5 million people worldwide, MS is a neurodegenerative condition caused by damage to oligodendrocytes, the specialized myelin-forming cells in the central nervous system, impairing normal electrical impulse transmission between nerves. As the disease progresses, myelin repair becomes less efficient and damage accumulates, preventing nerves from functioning properly.