“Multiple Sclerosis is a satisfying research area to work in”, says Professor Roland Martin, co-director of the Clinical Research Priority Program Multiple Sclerosis. “Enormous progress has been made with respect to newly approved therapies and this has dramatically changed the perspectives for MS patients. But it is a complex multifactorial disease and not every patient reacts well to therapy. The CRPP Multiple Sclerosis aims at understanding the different courses the disease can take and finding out why some patients react to medication and others not.”
Today, 110 genes have been identified to be associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Data will be published soon that describe as many as 200 genetic risk factors involved in MS. Add this to a plethora of implicated environmental factors, and the complexity of the disease is clear. It is therefore no surprise that the disease course can vary tremendously between patients, with some patients ending up in a wheelchair and others with a milder disease course. This variation is also evident from the pathology and is reflected in the responsiveness of the patients to therapy. The heterogeneity of the disease is a huge problem that hampers treatment in the clinic, research and the development of new treatments.
Dissecting MS ..
“Within the CRPP, we look at the disease from different angles. There are research groups that use imaging to define subgroups of MS patients. A second cluster of groups tries to dissect the underlying biology in these defined phenotypes. Here we focus at the genotypes involved and the immunology of the disease. The third cluster concentrates on the development of new therapies as well as the understanding of their mechanisms. These groups define biomarkers to assess whether a therapy is successful while at the same time get a better understanding of the disease. There is close interaction between all three clusters, which is also the merit of the CRPP”, Roland Martin explains.
.. to find new therapies
An example of a very promising therapy that is being developed in Zurich to control inflammation in early stages of the disease is tolerance induction. The patient’s immune system is made tolerant to its own myelin using a patented procedure (for more information see article “Establishing Tolerance”). This approach, if successful, would come closest to healing the disease. “Existing therapies are almost exclusively directed towards the immunological aspect of the disease and enormous progress has been made in this treatment area”, says Martin. “The new challenge will be to address the degenerative aspects, what exactly induces tissue damage in the brain? We need protective therapies as well as regenerative therapies to repair tissue damage.”
Phenol and anti-Nogo antibodies
According to Prof. Martin, the use of hydroxytyrosol, a natural phenol derived from olives, is a very promising therapy for multiple sclerosis with neuroprotective potential. “To address the neurodegenerative aspect, we have recently also started a collaboration with Martin Schwab, to investigate whether the use of the anti-Nogo antibodies in MS therapy can help repair damaged tissues”, Martin adds.
To be able to compete in the research field, the CRPP has to operate highly interdisciplinary. From molecular science to imaging and clinical groups, all are united in the CRPP. Martin concludes: “Being part of the ZNZ has helped us find collaboration partners. I value the ZNZ as a well-organized scientific collaboration platform that encourages academic exchange.”
Visit the CRPP Multiple Sclerosis home page