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Benaroya Lands NIH Grant to Study Molecular Mechanisms in Cells Involved in MS

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Investigators at the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle have won a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study molecular changes in white blood cells that lead some of them to cause damage to the spinal cord and brain in multiple sclerosis patients.

The BRI research team has identified different types of T cells that they believe are involved in inducing MS and other autoimmune diseases, and they have already initiated a genome-wide analysis of two T cell subsets using Illumina sequencing technology.

In this project, the team plans to determine the functions and plasticity of Th17 cells in multiple sclerosis and in experimental autoimmune enchepalomyelitis, as well as how they are generated and may be regulated or inhibited in mice and in humans.

"We want to understand the factors that make these cells target the spinal cord and brain to cause disease," BRI Assistant Member Estelle Bettelli, a co-principal investigator of the study, said in a statement.

"It is becoming clear that MS is not a unique disease entity but can present itself in different clinical forms and variants," she added. "The understanding of how and which cell populations of the immune system participate in the autoimmune attack is very important for determining current treatments and designing new therapeutics tailored to the different forms of MS," Bettelli explained.

Steven Ziegler, director of the BRI Immunology Research Program and co-PI on the project, said the partners will look for specific genomic markers to discover how these cells are generated and can be controlled.

"We can then see how the genomic marks affect the cells in model systems of MS and how they operate in humans cells with and without the disease. We can also see how these cells behave once the patient receives treatment and if various treatments make the cells act differently," he said.