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With MS Society Support, Scientist Focuses on Immune System Regulation

ALBANY, N.Y., July 17, 2014 — An Albany Medical College scientist has received a $700,000 grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to support her ongoing search for new therapies for multiple sclerosis (MS), a devastating disease with few treatments.

In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells and tissues, resulting in severe inflammation, weakness, numbness and loss of vision. The disease affects 350,000 Americans and is more common in northern regions, including upstate New York.

The study by Dorina Avram, Ph.D., focuses on the role a specific molecule may have in the development of MS.

“By better understanding the activity of a specific molecule in the immune system, we hope to determine if targeting that molecule can help us develop new drugs or vaccines to stop immune system attacks that are the hallmark of MS,” she said. Current therapies can reduce the number of attacks but do not eliminate them completely, she added. 

Dr. Avram, a professor in the College’s Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, said function of immune cells is controlled by proteins within them, and that the proteins are, in turn, controlled by molecules known as “ubiquitin ligases.”

She said one ubiquitin ligase in particular, known as Hectd3, may control the function of T cells that are thought to be the main drivers of MS attacks. Animal studies in Dr. Avram’s lab have found that the absence of Hectd3 in T cells improves disease symptoms in mice, and are now focused on understanding how absence of Hectd3 reduces MS attacks and finding ways to block it.

Studying the role of ubiquitin ligases in disease as Dr. Avram is doing encompasses one of the largest and most promising fields of biomedical research worldwide today. The field was pioneered by the most recent recipient of the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, Alexander Varshavsky, Ph.D., of the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Avram published a study earlier this year that found that removing a different molecule from T cells resulted in reduced severity and delayed onset of symptoms in mice with an MS-like disease, by re-routing cells and making them harmless.

“We’re on the right path as we zero in on the specifics of why the immune system goes awry. We’re very excited about the progress we’re making,” she said.

Instrumental in this research are Albany Medical College graduate students Samira Mansouri and Danielle Califano.

Albany Medical Center, northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center, is one of the largest private employers in the Capital Region. It incorporates the 734-bed Albany Medical Center Hospital, which offers the widest range of medical and surgical services in the region, and the Albany Medical College, which trains the next generation of doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals, and also includes a biomedical research enterprise and the region’s largest physicians practice with more than 400 doctors. Albany Medical Center works with dozens of community partners to improve the region’s health and quality of life. For more information: www.amc.edu or www.facebook.com/albanymedicalcenter.

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*Questions & Comments:

Beth Engeler
Extension: (518) 262 - 3421
  engeleb@mail.amc.edu



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