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Myelinating to the neuronal axon

Under the microscope: the myelin repair race

Sarah Foxton

Myelin repair is a hot topic in the world of MS research right now and so it should be.

What is myelin?

Myelin is the protective coating around nerves – a bit like the insulation on an electrical wire. It helps messages travel smoothly and efficiently down our nerves. In MS, myelin is damaged, messages become disrupted, and this is what causes the symptoms people with MS are all too familiar with.

It’s not surprising, given the importance of this fatty substance, that the body is equipped to repair damaged myelin. Unfortunately this natural repair process becomes less efficient over time and parts of the nerve can become exposed and vulnerable to permanent damage.

So the theory among scientists is simple – we need to find ways to put myelin back on nerves. In reality, this task is far from simple, but work has begun and it looks promising.

So far, so good

Lots of molecules that play a vital role in myelin repair have already been identified and researchers have begun to learn why and how they are involved. This is exciting because it could lead to the identification and development of drugs to target these molecules and kick-start myelin repair in the future.

Some unlikely candidates have already emerged as potential myelin repair therapies. One was a drug currently used to treat eczema and the other is for athlete’s foot!

In cream form they wouldn’t be much use, but as a pill they could be tested in clinical trials for MS. It’s not just the laboratory research making, progress. Just this year, early stage results were announced from two separate trials. The first involving a drug called MD1003 and the second anti-LINGO-1, keep an eye out for more results from these trials.

What next?

Research is full steam ahead and there is no sign of it slowing down with some exciting projects on the horizon. The Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair continues with a focus on myelin repair research and studies spanning a large range of molecules and pathways are ongoing.

In Edinburgh, Dr Veronique Miron recently received a collaborative Career Development Award from the MS Society and MRC to expand on her myelin repair research to date. She has already shown a protein called activin-A plays a role in myelin repair. The next steps in her research could pave the way towards new strategies in targeting myelin repair.

At the end of 2015 we announced the results of our grant round which included three myelin repair projects. This shows just how much the momentum is building in this area of research and can’t wait to see these studies progress.

So what does all of this mean?

We are in no doubt about the importance of myelin but there are currently no treatments available to repair it. The recent developments in myelin repair research provide real potential for future MS therapies. Although this won’t happen overnight, it is exciting to see experts in the field uncover more and more about the different molecules and processes involved in repairing myelin.

There are a growing number of horses in the myelin repair race and we look forward to seeing them cross the finish line!

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