$3.4 million directed to key UW-Madison MS study

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University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are one of four teams internationally to receive the largest awards ever made for research aimed at protecting against and reversing neurologic damage and restoring function in people with multiple sclerosis.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has awarded $3.4 million to the Wisconsin group, led by Dr. Ian D. Duncan, School of Veterinary Medicine neurology professor, to develop cell transplant techniques that may one day be used to repair the damaged myelin characteristic of the debilitating and unpredictable disease.

"It's all about myelin repair and protecting nerve fibers," says Dr. Duncan, an international authority on myelin and myelin-related diseases. "The goal is to translate bench research into clinical application."

Multiple sclerosis—which affects an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide, 400,000 people in the United States and 10,000 in Wisconsin—involves a misdirected attack by the immune system on myelin, the nerve fiber coating that speeds the signals of the central nervous system. Multiple sclerosis also destroys the underlying nerve fiber, causing symptoms such as numbness, blindness, cognitive dysfunction, and paralysis.

An important part of the Wisconsin project, according to Dr. Duncan, will be efforts to direct human stem cells to become myelinating cells that could be used in transplants to repair the nervous system lesions characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

He notes that the Wisconsin team plans to deploy powerful, state-of-the-art imaging technologies, including magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, to image lesions and how they respond to treatment.

Besides UWM, the other three research teams that received NMSS funding are based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of Cambridge in England, and University College London.