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Edinburgh team seek new insights into MS progression


A team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh are set to begin a major five-year international project searching for multiple sclerosis treatments to slow its progression – and ultimately stop or even reverse the resulting loss of ability.

The project, which has secured more than €674,000 from the International Progressive MS Alliance, will explore what happens to the mitochondria of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and how this might be impacted by different drugs.

In progressive MS, mitochondria – the energy production ‘powerhouses’ in cells – do not function properly, particularly in nerve cells meaning nerves are starved of the energy they need to survive.

As such, people living with progressive MS can experience nerve cell death and which may lead to permanent disability.

The Edinburgh team, alongside researchers from Cleveland in the US, will investigate the processes involved in mitochondria failing in nerve cells and how the lack of energy production occurs in MS by using mouse models.

Dr Don Mahad, Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and lead researcher on this project, says this work could help discover new treatment targets: “ Our aim with this study is to understand more about the role of mitochondria in MS, and ultimately find targets for potential new treatments that can reduce the loss of vulnerable nerve and nerve cells in MS. In turn, this could slow or even stop progressive MS.”

Dr Mahad and his team will also explore whether pioglitazone, a diabetes drug, can help boost energy supply to nerves over the long-term and potentially prevent cell death.

Key project funder the International Progressive MS Alliance – of which the MS Society UK is a leading member – last year funded 17 promising research projects around the world. This year, six ‘vital research’ projects from the original 17 will move forward with a share of €4.6m.

Clare Walton, MS Society UK’s Head of Research, says the organisation is “hugely proud” to be part of the Alliance as it offers hope to the more than 6,000 people living with MS in Scotland: “ The need for treatments for people with progressive forms of MS is urgent. Tens of thousands of people in the UK have little available to them and that’s why research like this is so important.”

Craig Watson from Falkirk is 52 years old and was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 2015. He experiences a number of symptoms including mobility issues, vision problems, cognitive fog, fatigue, and problems with his speech.

News of the research funding, he said, filled him with “great joy and hope for the future”: “ Without research like this, a cure for MS will never be found.

“ To know this research is taking place close to my home warms the soul. Research into progressive MS is really important and news of this study offers reassurance to many that something is being done.”