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UMD and VA Maryland Health Care System Collaborate on MS Research

January 25, 2017
Contacts: 

Alyssa Wolice 301-405-3936

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland Fischell Department of Bioengineering is collaborating with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System on a research project focused on multiple sclerosis (MS). Led by Christopher M. Jewell, PhD, an assistant professor in bioengineering, the VA-funded project seeks to use nanotechnology to control the disease without compromising normal immune function that often occurs during autoimmune diseases. Ultimately the team hopes this preclinical research could contribute to reducing cost and burden of disease for MS patients and their families.
           
Recently funded by the VA’s Office of Research and Development, Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development Service as a VA Merit Award--the first given to a University of Maryland College Park faculty member--the four-year, $1.1 million project is titled, “Tunable assembly of regulatory immune signals to promote myelin-specific tolerance.”

The project will explore strategies that could control MS with a vaccine-like specificity that keeps the rest of the immune system functional. Currently, conventional treatments for MS often compromise the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infection. MS—for which there is no cure-- occurs when a patient’s immune system mistakenly attacks myelin in the brain, leading to slow loss of mobility over decades.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Jewell will be joining the VA Maryland Research and Development Service,” said Thomas Hornyak, MD, PhD, associate chief staff for Research and Development at the VA Maryland Health Care System.  “His study merges immunology, bioengineering, and chemistry, and presents an exciting new direction for biomedical research at our facility,” he added.

Importantly, several pre-clinical reports and clinical trials have investigated the idea that co-administration of myelin peptide and tolerizing immune signals to lymph node tissues that coordinate immune response can promote the development of regulatory T cells (TREGS) that ameliorate disease.

“This research will study a new idea to promote TREGS that control disease and importantly, test the idea in both preclinical models and in samples from human MS patients,” said Jewell, who will soon be a part of the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Research and Development Service. 

“One of the most exciting aspects is our multidisciplinary team that brings together engineers, clinicians, and immunologists from the VA, the University of Maryland College Park, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. This will allow us to design new materials and test them in both preclinical models, and in samples from human MS patients. We hope the project will shed new light on some of the mechanisms of autoimmunity, and contribute to more specific and long-lasting treatment options for veterans that also reduce the financial burden on veterans and their families," he added.
           
Thus, this research project could lead to permanent improvements for MS patients, improvements that could greatly reduce healthcare costs for them and their families.
           
“This latest collaborative effort to advance multiple sclerosis research demonstrates how critical it is that engineers work together with fellow scientists and clinicians to create solutions to today’s most pressing health challenges,” said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering.
           
The project also fosters interdisciplinary collaborations between other team members, including Dr. Walter Royal, MD, at the VA Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence located at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and with Dr. Jonathan Bromberg, MD/PhD, at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore.
           
“The potential outcomes of this research can bring lasting improvements to lives of veterans struggling with MS and to their families, who often serve as caregivers, “said Dr. Adam Robinson, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. “MS is a debilitating disease over time, and we’re excited that Dr. Jewell and his team are pushing forward with a project that can positively impact large numbers of veterans.”
           
In collaboration with an array of academic centers such as University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the VA Maryland Health Care System conducts a range of science and medical research projects, from basic science to clinical and rehabilitative medicine, totaling about $27 million annually.