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Brain Health Institute Expands Research to Include Multiple Sclerosis
Cheryl Dreyfus, chair of Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at UMDNJ-RWJMS, to lead team investigating new treatments
A leading multiple sclerosis (MS) researcher at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) is joining forces with the Rutgers Brain Health Institute (BHI) to collaborate on new research and potential treatments for those suffering with MS – a debilitating disease affecting up to 350,000 people in the United States.
Cheryl Dreyfus, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at UMDNJ-RWJMS, will lead a research team examining the cells that support and protect neurons in the normal nervous system and brain with hope that this research someday will translate into strategies that can be used to help those suffering with neurological diseases like MS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“The collaboration with the Brain Health Institute is so exciting because it allows me the opportunity to extend my research in a way that I could not have done alone,” says Dreyfus who will also work closely with other Rutgers and RWJMS scientists and clinicians who see and care for MS patients.
Up until now, the primary research areas of the Brain Health Institute (BHI) – which aims to bring new insight into neurological diseases and neurodegenerative disorders -- have centered on autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and auditory aging.
Robin Davis, a neuroscientist and acting director of the BHI, says the institute’s mission is to unite the faculty at Rutgers who have deep strengths in neuroscience, genetics and related disciplines with New Jersey’s life sciences industry to accelerate research on neurological disease and disorders. As part of the “Our Rutgers, Our Future” campaign, the BHI is the recipient of a $1.5 million gift to endow a faculty position to direct the institute -- a position named in honor of Charlotte and Murray Strongwater, the in-laws of Rutgers alumnus and Bed, Bath & Beyond Chief Executive Officer Steven Temares who made the gift.
“The Brain Health Institute is allowing all of us doing research on neurological diseases the opportunity to come together and strengthen our existing connections,” says Davis, who along with neuroscientist Karl Herrup, was responsible for spearheading the BHI initiative. “The research and clinical studies that Cheryl and her colleagues at Robert Wood Johnson are pursuing on multiple sclerosis add to the collaboration between the medical school and the university, a programmatic partnership that will grow stronger once the integration of the medical school and Rutgers is complete.”
The cause of MS remains unknown. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 250,000 to 350,000 individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with the disease. Ann Romney, the wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was diagnosed with MS more than a decade ago and First Lady Michelle Obama’s late father suffered with the debilitating disease for many years.
Dreyfus readily acknowledges that this research has become her life’s work but is hesitant to talk about MS in terms of a cure. In her quest to learn about how cell and nerve damage can be limited in those with MS, Dreyfus and her team are studying a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The protein not only assists in creating new brain cells but also plays a critical role in protecting these cells from dying and encouraging nerve impulses within the brain. In those with MS, the protective covering, or myelin sheath, that insulates brain cell processes, is damaged, causing inflammation, injury, scarring and other neurological problems.
Scientific studies have shown that BDNF enhances human brain functioning and is vital for thinking and learning. Low levels of BDNF have been associated with a variety of neurological conditions including depression, epilepsy, schizophrenia and other cognitive functions.
The animal and laboratory research being done by Dreyfus and her team indicates that BDNF may play a role in protecting and regenerating the damaged myelin sheath in those with MS and that the disease process may be able to be regulated. The ultimate goal, she said, is to prevent neurological damage in those with MS and restore function without adverse side effects from the treatment.
“This is why it is so exciting to think about this new connection with the Brain Health Institute because it allows us to extend this important research across the Robert Wood Johnson and Rutgers campus in new and exciting ways,” says Dreyfus. “We are at a point in our science where we hope to connect and work with those that might be interested in developing a new approach to multiple sclerosis.”
Media Contact: Robin Lally
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