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Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

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The MS Society has awarded £1.85million of new funding for its research ‘Centre of Excellence’ in Cambridge, as part of their fight to stop multiple sclerosis (MS).

The major new grant will allow Cambridge scientists to find new treatments, faster, for tens of thousands of people living with progressive forms of MS in the UK, who currently have nothing to stop disability progression. 

The MS Society has committed to this funding following a competitive application process with research facilities across the UK, and will also be awarding £1.85million to researchers at the University of Edinburgh. Over the five year grant period, the centres will be working closely together towards the shared goal of stopping MS, and training the next generation of research scientists.

MS affects more than 130,000 people in the UK. It damages nerves in your body and makes it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think. Thanks to research, there are now over a dozen licensed treatments for people with relapsing forms of MS. These treatments are able to target rogue immune activity, and reduce the damage to myelin – the protective coating that surrounds our nerves, which is damaged in MS. But to truly stop MS, we need to find treatments that can replace lost myelin, and protect nerves from damage.

Building on strong foundations

The MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair will build on its legacy of pioneering research on the impact of ageing on MS, putting in place a system to study remyelination in people with MS of all ages, including children.

The team previously found a way to boost myelin repair in rats by returning myelin making cells to a more youthful state. Now, by studying myelin repair across the human lifespan, they hope to identify how our capacity for remyelination changes with age, and work out how this could be used to develop new myelin repair drugs.

The researchers will also be developing new ways to test how effective myelin repair drugs are in clinical trials. Including cutting-edge vision tests and physiological methods, these could be taken up by scientists around the world, and answer long-standing questions about the role of remyelination in MS. With these methods, Cambridge’s aim is to be the first MS centre in the world to routinely assess myelin in people with MS, which will help optimise treatment in the future.

In pursuit of new therapies

Dr Thóra Káradóttir, Group Leader at the Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, and colleague Professor Alasdair Coles will co-lead work at the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair.

Dr Thóra Káradóttir said “Few neurological conditions have seen anything like the progress in treatments we’ve had in MS, and Cambridge researchers have made a huge contribution to that change. But there are still tens of thousands of people who don’t have anything to help their condition, and that’s why continued research like ours is so vital.

“We are excited to build on the Cambridge centre’s strong foundations in developing new treatments for people with MS, and bring in what we believe will be a new era for MS treatment. Thanks to this generous donation, we can make discoveries that will benefit people living with MS worldwide – including the myelin repair therapies that are still so desperately needed.”

A history of collaboration

Assistant Director of Research at the MS Society, Dr Emma Gray, said “More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and our research has been vital in finding treatments for some of them. Today, we can see a future where nobody needs to worry about their MS getting worse – and our top priority is finding treatments that slow or stop MS for everyone. The work happening in Cambridge is inventive, innovative and incredibly exciting, and will be vital to help us reach our goal.”

The MS Society has funded research in Cambridge for over a decade, already contributing to major advances in MS research. Their recent trial of the cancer drug bexarotene proved that myelin repair in humans is possible. And, demonstrating their history of fruitful collaboration, researchers in Cambridge and Edinburgh working together identified the role of RXR gamma (the target molecule for bexarotene) in myelin repair.

This news article was adapted from a press release by the MS Society.