Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the brain and the spinal cord. It affects the insulating layers that wrap the nerve cells (the myelin sheath), and, as a consequence, disrupts nerve signals within the brain.
Symptoms vary greatly between individuals, depending on which areas of the brain are affected, and include problems with vision, sensation, memory and movement. Around 2.5M people worldwide have MS, with Scotland having the highest number of MS cases per capita in the world.
The pattern of MS activity varies between individuals, either following a steady course of deterioration (progressive forms) or being characterised by acute deteriorations that are called relapses, which are interspersed with periods of recovery (relapsing-remitting forms). Most patients with relapsing-remitting disease convert to slowly progressive symptoms later in life.
The chance of relapses in MS can now be reduced by using anti-inflammatory treatments. However, progressive symptoms are due to degeneration of the underlying nerves, which have lost their myelin sheaths, and there are no treatments available to slow, stop or reverse their progress.
Work at CRM
Work at CRM aims to understand how to repair the damaged myelin sheath and protect nerves so as to develop novel pharmaceutical interventions. To do this, we use cell culture, animal models and studies of human neuropathological material.
Professor Charles ffrench-Constant research group
Professor Charles ffrench-Constant studies neural stem cells and their ability to form oligodendrocytes, the cells that form the myelin insulation layer. The aim of his laboratory is to find ways to activate neural stem cells in the brain, so that they move to the area that has been damaged and repair the myelin layer. In order to do so, the mechanisms that regulate stem cell migration, their transformation into oligodendrocytes, and the wrapping process around the nerve cells need to be understood.
Professor Anna Williams research group
Professor Anna Williams and her team investigate why the repair mechanisms that could potentially prevent neurodegeneration are inefficient and ultimately fail. With damaged brain regions exhibiting scar formation, projects in her lab are based on the premise that signalling molecules in these scars stop repair cells from getting to the injury site. Her lab has identified key molecules that do exactly that, and they are now investigating drugs that can remove these signals and allow the cells to move across the brain and to the damaged area to repair the myelin wrap. In her capacity of an NHS consultant neurologist, Professor Williams also runs an MS clinic at the Anne Rowling Clinic.
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