MS Research Roundup: January 29, 2014
B Cells for MS Diagnosis; More Research Needed on Laquinimod for European Regulators; Update on Toxin Trigger; New Way to Distribute Public Research Funds
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
B Cells for Diagnosis
An experimental new way to help diagnose MS has passed a clinical validation milestone, according to a press release from DioGenix in Gaithersburg, MD. The device, called MSPrecise, measures telltale genetic changes in B cells activated in people with MS. The product arose from a discovery by Nancy Monson and her team at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center of a distinctive antibody gene mutation pattern in B cells from the cerebrospinal fluid of people with MS. The prospective study found a specificity of 82% and a sensitivity comparable to the current standard of care. Company studies to learn whether the same DNA mutation signature can be readily detected in blood samples are supported by Fast Forward, a subsidiary of the National MS Society. (Sacramento Bee, DioGenix) (Tip from Karen Crumback)
Stalled in Europe
Earlier this month, laquinimod (Nerventra, Teva Pharma) got a thumbs down from the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use. CHMP recommended against approval for relapsing-remitting MS, citing animal studies showing long-term cancer risk and harmful effects on fetuses. It's also unclear how laquinimod works, but the oral drug is believed to modulate the immune system. The decision has no effect on ongoing clinical trials. "Teva and Active Biotech remain committed to the development" of laquinimod for MS, they announced. (Medscape, Jewish Business News)
Bacteria Toxin Targets Brain Cells in Mice
Last year, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City proposed that MS could be caused by an uncommon toxin found in some strains of a common family of food-borne bacteria. In an update to the MSDF story, new experiments in mice show that the epsilon toxin mimics some aspects of MS lesions—breaching the blood-brain barrier, killing the brain’s myelin-producing cells (oligodendrocytes), and targeting cell types associated with MS inflammation (retinal vascular and meningeal cells), Jennifer Linden, Ph.D., reported yesterday at an American Society for Microbiology meeting. The researchers also found trace evidence of the epsilon toxin at the grocery store. Of 37 food samples, 13.5% were positive for Clostridium perfringens bacteria, and 2.7% were positive for the epsilon toxin gene. (NBCNews.com, ASM Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting)
Pay It Forward
Scientists spend a huge amount of time writing, submitting, and reviewing grant applications—even though only a shrinking minority of proposals can be funded. What if each lab had a reliable flow of unrestricted money every year instead? That's the idea behind a new model suggested in a January 7 online paper in EMBO Report. Public agencies could divide the money equally among all scientists in their sphere. In turn, each scientist must pass along a defined portion of those dollars or euros to other worthy labs, in a kind of decentralized peer review. The model runs on the same kind of algorithm that powers Google searches and the impact factor of scientific journals and scholarly authors. A few caveats: It will need strict conflict-of-interest rules (no grants to self, former trainees, or institutional colleagues, for example). And there will need to be some way to fund large-scale projects and infrastructure. On the other hand, the authors added, it will free scientists to spend more time on the actual research. (EMBO Reports) (Tip from Magdalini Papadaki)
This post was updated to credit the tip for the MSPrecise announcement.