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Multiple sclerosis breakthrough raises hope for improved therapies

New research begins to grasp progression of crippling illness

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Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:04 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Multiple sclerosis is a prevalent disease that affects about 250,000 to 350,000 Americans, according to the National Institute of Health. This disease afflicts the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system, and causes the inflammation of the meninges, a lining of cells that cover the surface of the brain.

Though this is, as yet, an incurable disease, MS has many treatment and therapeutic options for patients. A group of Wayne State researchers, along with colleagues in Canada, have found a possible pathway that leads to disease progression – which could lead to new therapies for patients.

WSU School of Medicine neurology associate chair and professor Joyce A. Benjamins, neurology professor Robert P. Lisak, neurology and immunology & microbiology assistant professor Samia Ragheba, neurology research assistants Liljana Nedelkoskaa and Jennifer Barger all contributed to the study.

The main idea behind the study was “to see if B cells from patients with MS make substances that could be secreted that could damage CNS cells,” Lisak said.

B cells are a type of lymphocytes, or white blood cells, that produce antibodies, which help the body in immune responses. In patients with multiple sclerosis, however, the B cells produce molecules that damage oligodendrocytes, which make myelin, Lisak said.

Myelin is a type of insulation for the axons of the nerve cells, neurons, in the CNS. If these protective coats are damaged and degraded, chemical communication between the brain and the rest of the body will be halted. Therefore, body movements such as walking, talking or bladder and bowel control are greatly hindered.

Benjamins said damage is not only done to the myelin sheath, but also to the neurons in a region of the brain called gray matter due to the dense population of neurons. Areas of gray matter are also called the cerebral cortex, and it is seen that damage in this area occurs early in the progression of the disease.

The experiment to investigate B cells was conducted with the help of Canadian counterparts, Lisak said.

“Our collaborators in Montreal isolated and cultured B cells from the blood of seven patients with MS and four healthy individuals,” Lisak said.

The liquid from the cultures was sent to WSU where it was put in CNS culture. By analyzing the results, researchers found that the liquid from the B cells of MS patients killed oligodendrocytes, but not from the liquid of normal individuals.

This lead to the researchers’ conclusion that MS patients’ B cells secrete some sort of molecules or substances that directly attack CNS cells. These results are quite relevant and important for the study of progression. Lisak said these results show a new way through which B cells can damage neurons in MS; this novel pathway can lead the direction of how future therapies and treatment target the disease.

“We want to...identify what molecules the B cells make that cause this damage,” Lisak said. “This would help to focus new treatment against B cells and specific molecules.”

With further experimentation and data collection, scientists will be one step closer in creating new treatment options for patients inflicted with multiple sclerosis.

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