New ground is being broken in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University. Dr. Jane Welsh, an Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health, and her team have made extraordinary discoveries benefiting the medical and scientific field, and many MS sufferers in the world, demonstrating the vital role veterinary research plays in promoting public health.
In order to bridge the gap between scientists and patients, Welsh recently hosted an English Tea for members of the Brazos Valley Multiple Sclerosis Support Group (BVMSSG) and her scientific team, composed mainly of graduate students and researchers. In its seventh year, the English Tea provided a forum for discussion concerning advances in MS, and allowed graduate students to present the discoveries to the BVMSSG.
“Our work highlights the diversity of research at the College of Veterinary Medicine, in particular we work on an animal model of a human disease, which may surprise the public,” Welsh said. “Our work is aimed at understanding the pathogenesis of a model system of multiple sclerosis and advances may aid the understanding of the disease process in MS. Also, therapies that function in our model system may be beneficial to MS patients.”
For the past three years, Welsh and her team have conducted tests using interferon tau, a protein produced by sheep during pregnancy, discovered by Dr. Fuller Bazer. This new protein could possibly replace interferon beta, which is given to MS patients as a shot and, although highly beneficial to MS patients, does have numerous side-affects.
The difference with the interferon tau is that it can be taken orally and is less toxic to the body. It appears to be effective in combating the relapse of MS-like symptoms in mice by increasing levels of immunosuppressive cytokines, which turn off the auto- immune response. Once the inflammatory cells are suppressed they stop attacking the myelin and repair mechanisms are allowed to function and restore the myelin surrounding the nerves, Welsh said.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that is thought to be triggered by a viral infection. In MS patients the immune system attacks the virus and the myelin membranes causing many of the sensory nerves to have difficulty conducting electrical impulses.
“When myelin dissolves as a result of MS, the body forms a scar in its place which interferes with the passage of signals,” said Sharon Boston, Facilitator of the BVMSSG and an MS sufferer. “Essentially that is what multiple sclerosis means – many scars.”
These scars prevent signals from traveling through the body and can be aggravated by stress levels. At the onset of MS more than 80 percent of those diagnosed had suffered a highly stressful life event in the preceding year. The theory is that if you have the genes that predispose to MS and high stress levels, which interfere with the ability to amount an effective immune response to MS causing agents, then the agent will persist and lead to illness, Welsh commented. Her team, which also includes Dr. Mary Meagher, Dr. Tom Welsh and Dr. Ralph Storts, are currently analyzing stress and how it affects MS.
The Brazos Valley Multiple Sclerosis Support Group has also dedicated its time to assisting the sufferers, their family, and friends in the fight against MS. The group is comprised of 30 members and when a new member joins, the group rallies around them and helps them get through the initial shock and then, speakers proceed to show each member how to effectively live with MS until researchers are able to find a cure.