News Feature | December 2, 2014

Researchers Make Breakthrough Discovery Paving Way For New MS Treatments

By C. Rajan, contributing writer


Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered a new type of immune cells that play an important role in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other inflammatory diseases, thus providing a new avenue for therapies for these diseases.

The multi-disciplinary research team led by Professor Xin-Yuan Fu, Senior Principal Investigator from CSI Singapore and Professor at the Department of Biochemistry at the NUS School of Medicine, found that a new type of immune T helper cells called TH-GM cells are involved in causing neuronal inflammation.

The researchers found that a member of the STAT family of proteins, called STAT5, programs these newly discovered TH-GM cells and initiates an immune response triggered by interleukin IL-7, causing neuro-inflammation and damage in the central nervous system.

By blocking the activity of IL-7 or STAT5, the neuro-inflammation could be prevented. The study opens up new treatment options for MS that can be used as stand-alone therapies or used along with other available treatments.

The findings also provide an insight into the mechanism of the disease. The signaling pathway of the STAT proteins, the JAK-STAT signaling pathway, is involved in the regulation of the immune system, and disturbances in this pathway lead to various immune system disorders and inflammatory diseases, including MS.

Currently, there are several medicines that interfere with the JAK-STAT pathway in the treatment of inflammatory diseases. The newly discovered IL-7-STAT5 expands this line of research and hopefully will lead to improved treatments.

According to the team, the next step for the researchers is to investigate the physiological function of TH-GM and develop associated therapies for various human autoimmune diseases.

This study was published online on November 21 in the journal Cell Research.

MS is an autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system (CNS), which causes various motor and sensory problems. MS and its different forms affect more than 2.5 million people worldwide. The disease has no cure, and currently available treatments only slow the progression of the disease and prevent disability.

In the past week, several other developments have been reported in MS therapies:

Last week, the U.S. FDA approved Genzyme’s MS drug, Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), for patients with relapsing forms of MS.