Settling the nerves

By Maria Parada

Contributing Writer

Published: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Updated: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Central Florida Future

Amy Simpson

UCF researchers have received a seven-figure grant from the National Institutes of Health that will help them discover new approaches to possibly reverse the damages caused by multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, a disease suffered by 2.5 million people worldwide, might be eradicated due to the $1.9 million grant. Other neurological diseases and their damages might also be prevented if the team achieves its goal of finding important clues of the advancement of the disease.

Stephen Lambert, an associate professor in the College of Medicine, received $428,000 as the first part of a four-year disbursement. His team of an estimated 20 people will observe myelin — a fatty white substance that surrounds some nerve fibers — and its breakdown, hoping to pinpoint the cause of the disease and how it can be reversed and prevented.

In a release, Lambert revealed his ultimate objective with the grant money.

"We hope our research will ultimately lead to new drugs that reverse the damage caused by [neurological] diseases and help patients lead longer, healthier lives," he said.

The current medicines available to MS patients only stop the development of the disease, but the team hopes to concoct a way to undo the damages caused by the disease.

While trying to discover a breakthrough, Lambert and his team plan to reproduce the process of myelination, which is the development of myelin around neurons.

"The process of myelination is extremely complex," Lambert said in the release. "By reproducing these complex phenomena in our laboratories, we can learn more about what causes debilitating diseases that affect so many people around the world."

According to Webmd.com, people with multiple sclerosis have an overactive immune system, which attacks the sheath around the nerves. The damage is irreversible and causes extreme pain throughout the body.

The team will do much of its research in the Hybrid Systems Lab in the NanoScience Technology Center on Research Parkway.

In that same location late last year, a team led by James Hickman conducted research dealing with Alzheimer's disease. There, Hickman discovered the existence of early brain deterioration.

For the research in multiple sclerosis, Lambert and Hickman will join forces and for the first time, "explore the breakdown of myelin in the areas inside the brain and the spinal cord using nanotechnology tools," the release stated.

In the release, Hickman explained how the Center will help the research cause.

"The application of the high-tech tools developed in my lab at the NanoScience Technology Center to this complex problem brings us that much closer to developing new drugs and, at some stage, a cure for diseases such as MS," Hickman said.

Barb Abney, the director of marketing and communications with the Office of Research and Commercialization, said the partnership is unique.

"This is one of the biggest collaborations done by the College of Medicine with the other colleges," she said. "The combination of two exceptional researchers marks a big step in the foundation of our College of Medicine."

Abney said the research facility offers an exclusive environment.

"The lab enables the team to work with living microorganisms," she said. "The team can see the breakdown of the myelin when recreated in the lab."

News of the grant has already been recognized in Central Florida, where, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 10,000 people have MS.

"I had one man e-mail me and tell me that he has MS," Abney said. "He said he was excited to see that an important step in the medical world is being taken in his own backyard."

In addition to the man who contacted Abney, some students at UCF know the hardships of people who have MS.

Kandyce Garth, a junior psychology major, knows how hard life is sometimes for a close family friend.

"MS changed the dynamic of the family radically," she said. "But seeing as he's been diagnosed with MS for upwards of 10 years, I believe the household has adjusted well."
The adjustment, however, has not made dealing with MS easier.

"It affects them not only financially, but emotionally as well, since the children never really got to interact much with their father or do the things children typically do at a young age," Garth said. "I think they were forced to mature at an earlier age."

Garth said she is thrilled to know that UCF is conducting significant MS research.

"I'm ecstatic to hear the news," she said. "I think it's great that my school is doing something to help end the suffering caused by MS, since I personally believe it's underrepresented in research."

And Lambert and Hickman and their team look to make significant headway into treating MS.

"The College of Medicine at UCF will be home to a breakthrough in a very early stage of its life," Abney said. "It usually takes a long time to get grants this big, but with two great researchers, UCF received support. It was not expected, but we are honored."


 

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