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With the goal of easing the symptoms of MS, Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, MD, and her colleagues are exploring the use of stem cells to repair damaged myelin.

UB to Share $12.1 Million State Grant for Stem Cell Study in MS

Published January 15, 2013

UB and two other upstate medical centers will lead a $12.1 million stem cell study aimed at halting the progression of disability in people with multiple sclerosis.

Scientists will test the safety and effectiveness of implanting stem cells that can reproduce myelin into the central nervous system of MS patients.

The grant, funded by NYSTEM, will allow scientists from UB, SUNY Upstate Medical Center and the University of Rochester Medical Center to test the safety and effectiveness of implanting stem cells that can reproduce myelin into the central nervous system of MS patients.

Myelin Repair Seen in Rodent Experiments

In recent years, scientists found that when they transplanted these stem cells into mice that had no myelin—the fatty sheath surrounding nerves that is damaged in MS—the cells began to repair damaged areas.

“If successful, transplantation of cells that can repair damaged myelin may reverse some of the symptoms and slow the tendency for worsening of the condition over time,” explains co-principal investigator Steven Goldman, MD, PhD, chairman emeritus of neurology at University of Rochester.

“It is hoped that this will also protect the nerves and prevent further progression of disability.”

Potential for Better Health, Medical Care Savings

The grant will enable the three medical schools to bring their research to the level of clinical trials in three to four years.

Advancing the project quickly could “save patients and the state millions in medical care costs while improving the health and well-being of thousands in our community, and millions worldwide,” says Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, MD, co-principal investigator and UB professor of neurology.

More than 30,000 New Yorkers have MS, with the highest concentration living in upstate New York. Because the condition affects young adults, it has a significant impact on the state’s workforce.

“MS is one of the most frequent neurological diseases affecting young adults today and is extremely prevalent in New York,” says principal investigator Burk Jubelt, MD, professor of neurology, microbiology and immunology at SUNY Upstate University.

“In fact, New York has one of the highest MS populations in the country.”

“Monumental Step Forward” for MS Research

The grant represents “a monumental step forward” for New York’s stem cell program and the 2 million people affected by MS, says Michael Cain, MD, Vice President for UB Health Sciences and Dean, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“This collaborative effort will link the medical schools in western and upstate New York, leveraging a broader range of expertise and knowledge of this disease and potentially transforming MS therapies.”

Cain is also vice chair of the Associated Medical Schools of New York, which announced the NYSTEM funding recommendation.