Scientist Explores New Avenue to Fight Multiple Sclerosis
ALBANY, N.Y., Jan. 8, 2014 — A research scientist at Albany Medical College has identified a potential path to providing relief of symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease with few treatments that affects 350,000 Americans.
Writing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Dorina Avram, Ph.D., professor in the Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease at Albany Medical College, said she was able to eliminate symptoms in mice which have an MS-like disease by removing a single molecule to alter the immune system’s T-cells.
Dr. Avram said the work could highlight a new therapeutic strategy for MS, an autoimmune disorder that is more common in northern regions, including upstate New York.
“My team is thrilled that this work is showing such promise as a new approach toward treating this devastating disease that we see a lot of at Albany Med,” said Dr. Avram. She said while her current research involves animal studies, she has been meeting with neurologists at Albany Medical Center to discuss research strategies.
“Dr. Avram’s research is very exciting. Her results suggest that there may be new and very effective treatment options for people with MS,” said Michael Gruenthal, M.D., Ph.D., chair of neurology at Albany Medical Center. “More laboratory research is needed before we can consider research studies in people with MS. When there’s an opportunity to begin research in people with MS, we’ll be ready.”
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells and tissues in the central nervous system. The result is severe inflammation creating symptoms such as weakness, numbness, and loss of vision in one eye.
In the studies, Dr. Avram removed an immune system-controlling molecule called BCL11B from immune system T-cells, which weakened the immune reaction.
As part of a cascade of effects, removal of this molecule from the T-cells resulted in an increase in Interleukin 4 (IL-4), and consequently of retinoic acid, a metabolite of vitamin A critical for re-routing immune system cells from the central nervous system to the small intestine. Diminished T-cell infiltration into the central nervous system resulted in reduced severity and delayed onset of disease symptoms.
“We expected the T-cells to be less activated. What we did not expect was their diversion to the small intestine where they were rendered harmless,” Dr. Avram said.
In another study, Dr. Avram vaccinated diseased mice in a manner to boost IL-4 and found the same effect.
“If this method works in people, we don’t expect it would provide a cure but rather an extended remission. Of course, we are still in the early phases of research but this is an important development that opens up new possibilities,” said Dr. Avram.
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 nearly 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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