University of Edinburghscientists are setto workwith leading biotechnologybusiness Genzyme, a Sanoficompany,to carry out drugdiscovery research that couldreduce neuron damage inthe brain.

The collaboration – brokered by Edinburgh BioQuarter’s Business Development team – will focus on identifying therapeutic candidates capable of promoting remyelination and reducing neurodegeneration, mostly in relation to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is caused by damage to myelin, the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibres. This damage affects the transmission of electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body and results in symptoms such as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. Over time,MS,patients accrue disability,which usually slowly gets worse – this is related to neurodegeneration.

A natural process called ‘remyelination’ can repair damaged myelin and restore nerve function. In MS, however, remyelination is inefficient, something which has captured the interest of the research team. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a physiologically-occurring molecule that prevents the cells needed to help repair damaged myelin from reaching the area of damage, which limits remyelination. Coinvestigators Dr Anna Williams, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Dr Scott Webster hope to identify inhibitors of this molecule or its receptor to prevent the block.

Dr. Williams said:“If successful, this will be a step-change in MS treatment as current treatments are unable to repair the damaged neurons that cause the symptoms of MS. “Ultimately this could reduce neurodegeneration in MS and the accumulation of disability in patients. This treatment could also be used in other diseases where myelin is damaged, such as spinal cord injury.” Dr. Johanne Kaplan, Vice President of Neuroimmunology Research at Genzyme, stated:“Remyelination-promoting therapies remain an unmet need and would be of great benefit to MS patients.”