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MS research discovery could pave way to new treatment


A new study from the MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research on Edinburgh BioQuarter shows zebrafish and human cells that survive immune attacks aren’t good at producing new myelin, improving understanding as to what goes wrong in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and taking another step closer to finding treatments.

In MS, the immune system attacks myelin – the protective coating around our nerves. If too much myelin is lost, the nerves underneath become vulnerable and can be destroyed. This is what leads to progression in MS.

To stop MS, ways need to be discovered to help our bodies repair damaged myelin and keep nerves safe. Myelin is produced by cells called oligodendrocytes. Some oligodendrocytes die during immune attacks and need to be replaced. But evidence suggests other oligodendrocytes may survive the attacks and even go on to try to produce new myelin.

This new study has discovered these surviving cells produce far less myelin than new oligodendrocytes. They also send the myelin to the wrong part of the nerve much more often.

The researchers found this pattern both in small transparent fish called zebrafish. And in brain tissue donated to the MS Society UK Tissue Bank from people with MS after they passed away.

It is not yet known exactly what causes nerves to be destroyed, however this discovery adds more information about what’s going wrong.

Current research is looking at how the body can be helped to make new oligodendrocytes more efficiently. The knowledge that new oligodendrocytes are much more effective at producing new myelin than survivors gives more hope this strategy could be successful.

The researchers also suggest another way the discovery could help the search for myelin repair treatments. The loss of oligodendrocytes can be a signal for the body to generate new ones. So if  these less efficient surviving cells could be destroyed then it might be able to make way for new, more effective cells. More research will be required to tell us the answer.

Dr Clare Walton, Head of Research at the MS Society, says: “ We’re really proud to have helped fund this latest study from Edinburgh, which could have important implications for future MS treatment. MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and we need to find ways to repair damaged myelin so no one has to worry about their MS getting worse.”

“Improving our understanding of what happens after myelin becomes damaged is one of our research priorities, and studies like this take us another step closer to our important goal of stopping MS.”

Read the full paper at the Nature Neuroscience journal


The MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research, based on Edinburgh BioQuarter, is a multidisciplinary centre-without-walls funded by the MS Society, dedicated to laboratory, translational and clinical research into multiple sclerosis. The MS Centre brings together research expertise in multiple sclerosis from across the University of Edinburgh.