Ryan Kavanaugh donates to a number of charitable organizations that drive some of the most cutting-edge research in the United States, such as Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and STOP CANCER, which fuels cancer research in Southern California. Another organization that Ryan Kavanaugh supports is the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, an organization that has launched a number of initiatives to fuel multiple sclerosis research and support people living with the disease. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system eats away at the protective covering normally present on nerves, resulting in disruption to the nervous system’s ability to communicate.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has three primary goals for its research efforts:
Stopping disease progression.
Today, there are more therapies that have real potential for treating MS than ever before in history. Already, some options exist for slowing disease activity and reducing the severity of attacks, especially for people with relapsing forms of the disease. The Society has formed a partnership with the National Institutes of Health to test a potential therapy deemed a “Fast Track Product” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its promise.
In addition, the organization has contributed to the MS-SMART Trial, which is currently testing three products that could protect neural networks from damage. Researchers funded by the Society have also found that malfunctioning mitochondria could lead to nervous system damage, which points to new paths for treatment. Scientists have additionally begun to concentrate on using altered blood cells from the patient’s own body to reduce the immune attack on the protective sheath covering nerve cells.
While this progress inspires hope and confidence in one day finding a cure, a great deal remains to be done to stop the progression of MS in those people diagnosed with it, including individuals with progressive forms of the disease. To achieve its goal, the Society has outlined a number of key goals for the coming years. The first is to understand more fully the role that the immune system plays in causing and sustaining MS. Researchers also need to be able to bring their findings to the clinical trial stage more quickly, in order to maximize the efficacy of any treatment. The Society also hopes to fuel research that will further unravel the mechanism of tissue injury that advances the disease.
Repairing damage to the nervous system, and restoring what’s been lost.
There’s more to conquering MS than stopping progression. Not long ago, scientists believed it was impossible to repair the nervous system, but the Society has poured millions of dollars into making this impossibility a reality. Now, an entirely new field of research has emerged that focuses on repair strategies to restore function to people whose nervous systems have been damaged by MS. Already, cell therapies and strategies to repair myelin, the sheath around nerves, are in the clinical trial phase. In addition, unique rehabilitation strategies are emerging.
In recent years, scientists have made great strides in restoring nervous system function. One example is the development of an oral histamine called clemastine that has improved electrical signal conduction in MS patients with optic nerve damage. This improvement indicates that myelin was repaired along the nerve pathway. The Society provided funding for the research that led to the identification of clemastine.
In addition, two teams of researchers that have received funding from the organization have had success in stimulating repair of myelin in mouse models of MS through nerve stem cells. The treatment has reduced inflammation and rates of myelin damage, and stimulated repair of the sheath. Other promising restorative treatments supported by the Society include Bionure’s BN201, a small molecule that promotes remyelination; Gli1, a transcription factor linked to myelin repair; and the stem cell treatment solutions for progressive MS that have been developed by Kadimastem.
Ending the disease for good.
Of course, the ultimate goal of research is to end the disease forever. Researchers are still working to understand the specific cause of MS, which is the key to preventing it in future generations. While this understanding remains out of reach, scientists have achieved several important milestones. Researchers have discovered a number of identifying factors that could somehow work together to increase a person’s risk of developing MS. These factors include genetic risks, lifestyle choices, and certain infections. While none of these factors by itself leads to the disease and not everyone with MS has had exposure to each of them, they serve as important jumping-off points for further research.
Recently, a global consortium found about 160 new risk genes for MS using funding from the Society, and scientists have used these findings to define the likely biological pathways for the development of MS. This line of research could realistically lead to methods for preventing the disease or creating better lines of treatment. Other researchers found important genetic differences between MS patients of different ethnic backgrounds—a finding that could also prove strategic in the years to come. Recently, the Society made a grant to the MS Microbiome Consortium, which is looking at gut bacteria in people with MS to develop probiotic strategies for stopping progress and even curing the disease.