Interview with Local MS Researcher Manzoor Bhat, Ph.D
Q: You were recently awarded a research grant from the National MS Society. What will this grant allow you to do?
We feel honored to receive this grant award from the National MS Society, as funding is essential for any scientific progress. With this funding, we will be able to pursue new areas of research that will enable us to understand how the interactions between glia and neurons affect nerve function in MS. Many factors contribute to MS, the largest being the immune factor, but how neurons begin to degenerate and the hallmarks to identify the initial insult are not well understood. We hope that our work will help to provide new insight into MS onset and progression by studying on a finer genetic scale how small changes in protein expression contribute to nerve function or dysfunction. We also hope to gain information concerning the ability of neurons and glia to re-establish interactions after insult, which will provide valuable knowledge that may be used in understanding a timeline in which individuals with MS need to be treated in order to see any positive effect in abating the physical characteristics associated with MS, such as immobility, muscle weakness and paralysis.
Q: Can you explain in layman's term your research "Disorganization and re-organization of axonal domains in myelinated axons?"
Our lab is interested in how neurons, the conductive cells in our body, interact with glia, the cells responsible for wrapping or insulating the neurons in the process called myelination. When glia wrap, or myelinate the neurons, they create discrete "domains" within the neuron/axon that are comprised of specific protein complexes. In many demyelinating diseases, like multiple sclerosis, these protein complexes are compromised, resulting in their disorganization and eventually the degeneration of the nerve. Our lab is focused on identifying novel proteins and protein complexes that are required to organize and stabilize these "domains." With the National MS Society grant, we will focus on understanding how loss of these domains in adults alters the domain organization, stabilization and nerve function. Furthermore, we will analyze the ability of these domains to reorganize, and how this reorganization takes place.
Q: How did you get started researching MS and what interests you about the disease?
Our research has always focused around how glia and neurons interact, and how specific axonal domains are organized. Myelin is such an essential component for proper nervous system function that damage to myelin results in devastating neurological consequences. So, diseases like multiple sclerosis, in which the myelin is damaged and glia lose their ability to interact with neurons, have always interested me. Furthermore, axonal domain disorganization appears to be a hallmark or first insult in many demyelinating diseases, suggesting that it is extremely important for the overall health of the nerves. Recent work in our lab has focused on an intriguing group of proteins that are expressed in both glia and neurons and are required for proper axonal domain organization. These proteins were also implicated in MS, in which it was found that autoantibodies were produced against this subset of proteins. The binding of these autoantibodies would prevent the interaction of glia with neurons and thus lead to disorganization of domains. What one could imagine is that constant exposure of the nerve to these autoantibodies would prevent the reformation of the domains, thus in turn would result in the progressive decline of nerve function, a similar physical characteristic that is observed in individuals with chronic MS.
Q: How do you feel the MS Society plays a role in MS research?
The MS Society plays a vital role in supporting MS Research and without it we would not have as many scientific advancements as we have today. With the economy declining, and governmental funding being cut, private funding agencies geared towards disease research, like the MS Society, are needed to keep important research going. Without funding and support there would be no research and in turn, no timely advances can be made in disease treatment, disease prevention and the constant attempt to find a cure.
Q: Is there anything else about your work that you would like the readers to know?
Yes, I would like the families with a loved one with MS or supporters of MS research to continue to lead the way in supporting not only the clinical research on MS, but also the fundamental research that is relevant to MS. When we together pursue both these fronts we will get a better understanding of this disease and its consequences on human health. It is not just the individual with MS who is affected- this disease puts tremendous strain on relationships, families and the society. We hope that our research will help in the future to find ways to prevent nerve degeneration in MS.