A National Institutes of Health grant will help University of Central Florida researchers explore new ways to potentially reverse the damage caused by multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.
Stephen Lambert, an associate professor in the College of Medicine and a member of UCF's Hybrid Systems Laboratory, has received $428,000, the first installment of a four-year, $1.9 million project. His team will study the breakdown of myelin, a substance that coats and protects nerves inside the brain and spinal cord, enabling electrical signals to reach distant nerve cells and muscles.
About 400,000 Americans and about 2.5 million people worldwide suffer from MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The drugs that are available now focus mainly on controlling the inflammatory nature of the diseases to limit the development of neuronal damage. They do not reverse the damage caused by the diseases.
"The process of myelination is extremely complex. 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," Lambert said. "We hope our research will ultimately lead to new drugs that reverse the damage caused by these diseases and help patients lead longer, healthier lives."
Most of the research will take place in the Hybrid Systems Lab in UCF's NanoScience Technology Center. At the center, a research team led by UCF bioengineer James Hickman showed for the first time last year that specialized myelin coating could be produced in the lab environment without the use of any type of growth serum.
The finding is significant because it allows researchers to more clearly study the causes of breaks in myelin and also the impact of proposed chemical treatments. Both could potentially lead to a greater understanding of the causes of neurological disorders such as MS and diabetes-induced peripheral neuropathy.
Hickman's previous work focused on cells in the peripheral nervous system and the nerves that connect the body's limbs and organs to the brain. The new research will, for the first time, explore the breakdown of myelin in the areas inside the brain and the spinal cord using nanotechnology tools.
"The application of the high-tech tools developed in my lab at the NanoScience 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.