New Center to Advance Research on MS, Neurovascular Disorders

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by Teresa Carvalho |

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A $2.5 million donation from the Simon Family Trust is supporting the creation of a new center of expertise to help in the development of new therapies for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological diseases.

The new center is being launched by researchers from Gladstone Institutes and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and is called Gladstone-UCSF Center for Neurovascular Brain Immunology.  It will combine basic and clinical research in vascular biology (the study of blood vessels), immunology, and neuroscience to discover new mechanisms that may control disease.

Clinical manifestations of neurological diseases like MS result from a complex network of mechanisms shared between the brain, and the immune and vascular systems. Although these mechanisms overlap, they have been studied separately, which may be hindering the study of potential therapies.

The Gladstone-UCSF center intends to shed light on these overlapping mechanisms.

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“Historically, neurological diseases have been classified as being only degenerative, inflammatory, or vascular. But we now know (…) that this classification cannot explain how diseases start and progress, nor has it been able to identify the best potential drug candidates,” Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, the center’s founding director, said in a press release.

“The intersection of the brain, immune, and vascular systems represents a new frontier in biomedical research. I’m very excited by the opportunities for new discoveries created by this new center, which can fundamentally change the way we think about neurological diseases and the development of new therapies,” Akassoglou added.

Gladstone researchers will contribute with their knowledge in basic research and advanced imaging techniques. One of their goals is to develop molecular probes — tags that bind to specific components — to study and diagnose vascular alterations in the brain.

In turn, the UCSF team will share its resources, including patient databases, clinical research and biomarker studies, seeking the discovery of new therapies.

Several research centers combine neuroscience and immunology fields. However, none of them had yet considered the role of vascular biology as a third pillar in the study of brain disease.

“Katerina’s [Akassoglou] research provided evidence that vascular pathology is a primary process in the development of disease and, as a result, offers a completely new perspective for how neurological diseases might be treated,” said Deepak Srivastava, MD, president of Gladstone Institutes.

Akassoglou’s research has shown an interaction between blood, the inflammatory response, and brain disease. One of the findings was that fibrinogen — a protein responsible for normal blood clotting — triggers neurodegeneration, as its leakage from blood vessels can activate a harmful immune response.

“Blood leaks in the brain used to be considered a consequence of brain dysfunction. Yet, we have discovered that these leaks often precede cognitive decline in neurodegenerative disease and inhibit repair. In addition, vascular damage is emerging as a central player in brain disease, and the immune system is the link between vascular pathology and the brain,” Akassoglou said.

Insights into this link may be crucial in preventing the progression of neurodegenerative disorders, researchers noted.

“Since vascular mechanisms may be early triggers of brain disease, targeting these triggers could allow physicians to intervene much sooner to prevent and halt disease progression,” said Lennart Mucke, MD, Gladstone’s director.

The Simon Family Trust’s donation will support the Gladstone-UCSF center by providing funding for cutting-edge facilities and innovative research projects.

“This new Gladstone-UCSF center promises to truly advance the field of neurological disease research. My family and I hope that our contribution will help the incredible team of scientists uncover some of the mysteries behind this very complicated collection of diseases and make a major impact on future treatments,” said Nick Simon, director of the Simon Family Trust and also a trustee of Gladstone Institutes.

Besides its implications in MS, this research may bring insights into other diseases with neuroimmune and neurovascular features, including neonatal brain injury, epilepsy, infectious and psychiatric disorders.

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