|Multiple sclerosis research being launched at Robarts Research Institute aims to find a way to repair damage from the disease, not just prevent new damage.
"It really is a nasty disease. It hits people in the prime of life," said Robarts scientist Dr. Paula Foster, who is leading the research effort that will focus on using stem cells.
"They can be stable for a year or they can be stable for a month and they don't know if the next attack will be worse or not so bad."
Often diagnosed in individuals in their 20s and 30s, multiple sclerosis attacks the protective myelin that covers nerves, resulting in breaks in the transmission of signals from the brain to the rest of the body.
Current treatments for the disease, which afflicts about 75,000 Canadians, are drugs that suppress the body's immune system.
"They do not promote any cell recovery and the body's own ability to restore new cells is very limited in the brain and the spinal cord," said Foster.
Scientists in several centres have been working on stem cell therapies with some results showing promise.
But a barrier to the research is there hasn't been a good way for researchers to actually see how the stem cells are performing in the body.
That's where the Robarts research comes in.
Using a new technique called cellular MRI, Foster plans to track the stem cells and answer the questions of where the best site is to implant the cells and how many stem cells need to be used.
"We will be able to watch these cells in a living animal," Foster said.
Foster's research is being supported with a $50,000 gift from Cuddy Farm Corporation and Trudell Medical through the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The money will create the A.M. Cuddy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Robarts in honour of Mac Cuddy, a London-area business leader who died from MS in 2006.
His estate previously donated more than $1 million to Robarts.
Foster said the $50,000 gift will speed up her research.
"This award allows us to start earlier . . . I'm excited."