Cambridge Researcher Wins 2017 Barancik Prize for Pioneering Work on Myelin Repair

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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A University of Cambridge researcher, Robin Franklin, has been awarded the 2017 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research for his work on myelin repair and as a potential way of treating multiple sclerosis (MS).

Franklin is a senior scientist at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute and director of the Cambridge MS Society Centre for Myelin Repair.

He will be awarded the prize and deliver the Prize lecture at theAmericas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2018, which will take place Feb. 1–3 in San Diego.

“I am absolutely delighted and deeply honored to have been chosen to receive the Barancik Prize,” Franklin said in a press release. “I am interested in how tissues naturally regenerate, and identifying ways to stimulate those mechanisms to assist myelin regeneration in MS. This could both prevent further damage to axons and restore function, which would be particularly important for people living with progressive MS.”

In a healthy central nervous systems (CNS), myelin allows for the propagation of electrical impulses between nerve cells, while protecting and supporting these cells. Demyelination, the pathological damage or loss of myelin, is a hallmark of MS.

While myelin repair therapies are not yet a reality, several strategies to enhance re-myelination are currently under investigation, including small molecules, small interfering ribonucleic acids (RNAs), and monoclonal antibodies targeting specific components of the signaling pathways that underlie the myelination process.

Franklin has contributed to a greater understanding of how the myelin coating on nerve fibers (axons) regenerates, seeking clues to repair myelin that has been damaged by MS, and finding ways to repair and protect the nervous system and stop disease progression.

Specifically, Franklin works with oligodendrocytes, which are the myelin-producing cells in the brain that are damaged in MS. With his team at Cambridge, he identified a key factor that stimulates myelin repair, called “retinoid X receptors.” These finding were used to study Targretin (bexarotene), a drug that targets the retinoid X receptor gamma molecule.

In mice studies, the team also uncovered clues to overcoming restrictions to myelin repair that come with aging.

Bruce Bebo, executive vice president of the National MS Society  that administers the prize, acknowledged his contributions in saying: “Professor Franklin continues to make significant advances in myelin repair, offering real hope that solutions will be found that restore function to people living with MS.”

The Barancik Prize, worth $100,000, recognizes and encourages innovation and originality in scientific research of relevance to MS, with emphasis on its potential impact in the search for a cure. The prize is funded by the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation.

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