UCL News


Major award for MS research

12 August 2005

UCL's Dr Gavin Giovannoni (Institute of Neurology) has been awarded $3.

6 million to lead a major research project into nervous system repair and protection in order to advance treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

Part of a $15.6 million investment into MS research across four teams worldwide, the project is one component of the US-based National MS Society's 'Promise 2010' campaign, a $30 million drive to advance MS research and care. The awards are aimed at limiting and reversing neurological damage and restoring function in people with MS.

An expert in immunotherapy in MS, Dr Giovannoni is heading an international group of investigators studying nerve repair and protection. "There is currently no effective therapy for the progressive stages of MS," says Dr Giovannoni. "We are addressing this void with a project that is a well-balanced mix of innovative basic science research and practical clinical research. We will investigate the effects of a number of neuro-protective drugs, either as individual compounds or in combination. By doing so, we will be able to identify drug combinations that have the greatest likelihood of being effective in progressive MS."

In MS, inflammation damages the myelin insulation that protects nerve fibres, and can also damage the fibres themselves. This results in neurological symptoms that may remit early in the disease, but usually progress with time. Dr Giovannoni's team will attempt to accurately quantify and monitor alterations in both myelin and nerve fibre density that occurs in MS. The team will use technology that can identify thousands of proteins at once, in order to develop markers of myelin or nerve fibre damage that could be applied to monitoring nervous system tissues in MS.

The team will attempt to turn neuronal stem cells into vehicles that will deliver repair molecules to sites of injury in the brain, and screen molecules for their protective properties as a prelude to clinical testing. A large part of their program will focus on identifying novel surrogate endpoints to test therapeutic strategies in MS. "It would be futile to identify a potential new therapy to delay disease progression, without having the means to test it properly in people with MS," says Dr Giovannoni.