A £2million research programme aimed at reversing the damage caused by Multiple Sclerosis is being undertaken by scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast.
The researchers aim to understand how myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds nerves in the central nervous system, can be repaired.
The funding is made up of £1,673,610 from the Wellcome Trust, and a grant of £467,333 from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, making it the biggest MS research study currently underway in Northern Ireland.
MS damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of symptoms such as vision loss, weakness and paralysis, pain, fatigue, bowel and bladder issues and cognitive impairment.
Dr Denise Fitzgerald from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said: “Through these very generous grants we are now able to pursue the holy grail of reversing the damage caused by MS. At the moment the treatments for patients limit the recurrence of relapses but none currently reverse the damage already done.
“Our research aims to understand how the damage done to the myelin can be repaired with a view to making an entirely new class of treatments for MS and other myelin disorders.”
Dr Fitzgerald added: “If we are successful in our research goals this could have huge potential to restore lost functions and improve the quality of life of people with MS.
“We are very grateful to the Wellcome Trust and the BBSRC for their generous grants which makes this research possible, so that we may advance knowledge and change lives.”
Giovanna Lalli, neuroscience senior portfolio developer at Wellcome, said: “This is a really innovative study looking at the way the immune system and the central nervous system interact.
“Investigating how certain immune cells can influence the repair of myelin will provide novel insights on the biology of this important process, and the results could pave the way for future therapies for debilitating diseases such as MS.”
Patricia Gordon, director MS Society Northern Ireland, described the research as a “hugely important and exciting project” which illustrates the ambition of those involved in researching MS.
She said: “Research into myelin repair will be welcome news to the 100,000 people across the UK living with MS.
“We are very pleased to see work in Northern Ireland recognised with such a significant grant and look forward to seeing the results of Queen’s University and Dr Fitzgerald’s important work.
“With bright minds, investments like this and continued collaboration between all of us involved in such research, together we can beat MS.”
Anyone interested in supporting MS research at Queen’s should contact the university’s medical fundraising team on 028 9097 3159 or email firstname.lastname@example.org