Academia/industry collaboration to reduce neurodegeneration in MS

7 January 2015

University of Edinburgh scientists are set to work with leading biotechnology company Genzyme to carry out drug discovery research that could reduce neuron damage in the brain.

Anna Williams and Scott Webster

The collaboration  will focus on identifying therapeutic candidates capable of promoting remyelination and reducing neurodegeneration, mostly in relation to multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is caused by damage to myelin, the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibres. This damage affects the transmission of electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body and results in symptoms such as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. Over time MS patients accrue disability, which usually slowly gets worse - this is related to neurodegeneration.

A natural process called ‘remyelination’ can repair damaged myelin and restore nerve function. In MS, however, remyelination is inefficient.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a physiologically-occurring molecule that prevents the cells needed to help repair damaged myelin from reaching the area of damage, which limits remyelination.

In the collaboration with Genzyme - facilitated by Edinburgh BioQuarter’s Business Development team - co-investigators Dr Anna Williams of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Anne Rowling Clinic (right in photo), and Dr Scott Webster (left in photo) hope to identify inhibitors of this molecule (or its receptor) to prevent this block and encourage the cells capable of repairing myelin into the area of damage.

If successful, this will be a step-change in MS treatment as current treatments are unable to repair the damaged neurons that cause the symptoms of MS.

“Ultimately this could reduce neurodegeneration in MS and the accumulation of disability in patients. This treatment could also be used in other diseases where myelin is damaged, such as spinal cord injury.”

Dr Anna Williams, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Anne Rowling Clinic

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