The Multiple Sclerosis Society (MS Society) in the United Kingdom recently announced the investment of £1.98 million in new MS research. After an in-depth, rigorous review process of the 58 applications submitted, 16 projects were awarded funding through the MS Society’s 2015 grant round totaling £1,979,879.
All applications were reviewed by a panel of experts who assessed the projects in terms of high scientific quality, sound evidence base, and alignment with the MS Society’s research strategy. In addition, the applications were reviewed by individuals living with MS as a way to guarantee that those selected were of relevance to people suffering directly from this condition.
The 16 awarded projects can be classified into four categories: cause, cure, care and services, and symptom management, and are expected to get underway in the coming months.
Five of the awarded projects were related to research on a cure for MS. One, entitled “Neuroprotective effects of BHDPC in models of MS,” is led by Dr. Chao Zhao from University College London and was awarded £38,769. The goal of this project is to investigate the possible protective effect of the molecule BHDPC on myelin (the fatty layer protecting nerves that is attacked by the immune system in MS), preventing nerve fiber damage. If a protective effect is confirmed, therapeutic agents with a similar mechanism of action might be developed that could potentially prevent nerve fiber damage.
A second project led by Dr. Julia Edgar from the University of Glasgow received £200,176. The project, titled “Finding ways to protect oligodendrocytes,” focuses on the cells that produce myelin, known as oligodendrocytes. In MS, oligodendrocytes become damaged, resulting in a decrease in myelin production and reduced myelin repair. The team will investigate a structure known as the myelinic channel and its role in oligodendrocyte damage. The hypothesis is that this structure is also damaged in MS, and researchers hope that preventing damage to the myelinic channel may also help to protect oligodendrocytes, and ultimately prevent nerve damage.
Another project, titled “Does early treatment with alemtuzumab prevent progression,” received £92,613 and is led by Professor Alasdair Coles from the University of Cambridge. The goal here is to determine the long-term efficacy of alemtuzumab treatment in MS patients, and to help answer the question of whether early treatment with disease modifying drugs really improves patients’ prognosis. Data from 1991 till the present day will be analyzed. The idea is to gain a better understanding on treatment effectiveness versus side effects, and if an early aggressive treatment is justifiable in the transition to progressive MS.
A fourth project, led by Professor Arthur Butt from the University of Portsmouth and entitled “A strategy to promote oligodendrocyte regeneration and remyelination,” was awarded £198,196. This project will focus on the myelin repair process by oligodendrocytes, which is deficient in MS. The team will search for survival and growth factors that protect oligodendrocytes from injury and promote their regeneration. One molecule in particular, GSK3, will be studied in detail as it has been shown to induce oligodendrocyte regeneration. Knowing more about this mechanism may allow the development of therapies to stimulate myelin repair.
The last project in this category, awarded £314,179, is entitled “High dose Simvistatin treatment for Secondary Progressive MS” and is led by Dr. John Greenwood from University College London. There is currently no treatment for progressive MS, but the team has found that this patient population may benefit from treatment with high dose simvastatin, as this drug was shown to reduce neurological decline and brain volume loss in these patients in a previous study conducted by the team. The project’s goal is to better understand the beneficial effects that statins exert on MS pathogenesis, especially in secondary progressive MS.