In MS, myelin, the protective coating around the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord is damaged by the immune system. This protective coating not only protects nerves but also provides nourishment and support, and without it nerve cells will eventually die. Current MS therapies suppress the immune system but do not promote the repair of nerve cells which have been damaged.
Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his team are investigating a protein called Tyro3 which in the laboratory has been shown to improve the natural repair processes in the brain by causing the production of myelin. In this project, the team aimed to determine whether producing more myelin in laboratory models of MS is enough to reverse the damage associated with MS.
They also tested if certain other medications, already approved for treating other diseases, are able to promote new myelin production in the brain. Aiming to use already available medications for a new disease is known as drug re-purposing and can speed up the process of treatment approval as steps testing the safety of the medication in humans have already been carried out.
Professor Kilpatrick and his team have made considerable progress in deciphering the mechanisms of how the Tyro3 protein might be aiding in the remyelination process. This is an important step if medications targeting Tyro3 are going to be developed and used to enhance remyelination in people with MS. Although their study was only in the early stages, they have made some important findings that will inform how and when we could use any therapies aimed at activating Tyro3. They have also been focusing on parts of the brain and spinal cord which are heavily impacted by the loss of the protein Tyro3 in an effort to better understand the full role of this protein in MS. These studies could lead to the creation of new therapies or the re-purposing of current therapies approved for other diseases to enhance myelin repair, slow down or stop the progression of MS.