Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
In MS the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheaths that surround nerves. This causes degeneration of nerve fibres, leading to the symptoms that characterise MS (tremor, loss of vision, loss of movement and co-ordination, etc). Current therapies suppress the inflammatory response of our immune system that triggers this myelin degeneration, and some of these therapies are quite effective. However, the body does not regenerate myelin very effectively and there are no therapies that stimulate remyelination. Such therapies are needed to restore normal function in people with MS, as immune suppression alone does not generally lead to myelin repair. The aim of our research is to develop drugs that stimulate remyelination and can be used to help restore normal function in people living with MS. We aim firstly to determine if the molecule S1P, which is naturally present in our bodies, is essential for protection and repair of myelin. Our current research indicates that this is the case, meaning that we need to mimic the natural actions of S1P to stimulate formation of new myelin in people with MS. Next, we will determine if drugs that mimic the natural actions of S1P stimulate remyelination in a laboratory model. This group of drugs already exist and are used to treat MS (Fingolimod, Siponimod, and Ozanimod). If we are able to demonstrate conclusively that these drugs protect myelin and stimulate myelin repair, this will influence clinical decision making regarding the relative benefits vs disadvantages of particular drugs. More importantly, I will be able to use this knowledge in designing drugs that are intended specifically to stimulate myelin repair in MS.