Ari Waisman, a multiple sclerosis (MS) researcher credited with having made major contributions to “the successful development of modern anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory therapies,” was recently honored by the Sobek Foundation.
The author of over 170 scientific articles on MS, Waisman is the director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine at the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), in Germany. He is the 17th recipient of the Research Prize of the Roman, Marga and Mareille Sobek Foundation to be an MS research specialist.
He received the award for work that helped to unveil mechanisms behind MS — including into “the role and regulation of inflammatory cells in the brain” — and that may well form the basis of preventive treatments to limit tissue degeneration, the foundation announced in a press release. Specifically, it said, Waisman’s work furthered scientific understanding of the mechanisms behind autoimmune diseases, the cause of chronic inflammatory tissue damage, and was a driving force in ongoing work toward the development of what are being called neuroprotective therapies, which aim to slow the progression of these diseases.
Neuroprotective treatments are being designed to prevent axonal, neuronal, myelin and oligodendrocyte damage and cell death, and target such different processes as oxidative stress, ionic imbalance (of sodium, potassium or calcium), and energy depletion. If neuroprotective therapies are able to successfully target natural repair mechanisms, rather than disease specific processes, they may not only treat MS but other brain diseases as well, such as stroke, brain trauma or epilepsy.
Waisman was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and studied biology in Israel, where he completed his PhD on immuno-biology. He was appointed professor of immunology at the Mainz University Medical Center in 2005, and has been director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine since 2010.
Ulrich Steinbach, director general of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Art in Germany, was present at the award ceremony and praised Waisman’s research achievements.
In recent years, Waisman has been involved in setting up an MS research training network called ITN-NeuroKine, established in 2013 at the Mainz university with a €3.5 million grant from the European Commission, to promote research training and studies into brain and immune system interaction.
“The core objective of our new ITN-NeuroKine research network is to gain insight into the impairment of communication between immune cells,” Waisman said in a Gutenberg University release at the time. “We will specifically be focusing on the soluble proteins called cytokines, which regulate the communication between these cells.”
This year’s Sobek research prize was jointly awarded with AMSEL e.V. and the German Multiple Sclerosis Society.