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January 8, 2013
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Upstate is part of research collaborative recommended for $12M for study on stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— The Empire State Stem Cell Board has recommended more than $12.1 million in funding be awarded to a collaborative effort among SUNY Upstate Medical University, the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and the University of Rochester Medical Center to develop a new medical treatment for multiple sclerosis. Upstate’s Burk Jubelt, MD, professor of neurology, and microbiology and immunology, is the project’s principal investigator.

The grant’s focus is on a groundbreaking medical treatment that addresses the underlying causes of physical failure in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). State funding would enable the three medical schools to advance their project quickly, bringing their research to the level of clinical trials in three to four years. The clinical trials would aim to halt the progression of disability in MS patients and possibly provide functional improvement.

State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, said, “This recommended grant funding will enable these institutions to accelerate this essential project by moving their research toward clinical trials. The collaborative research efforts of these outstanding scientists show great promise in preventing the progression of MS.”

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society defines multiple sclerosis (MS) as a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.

“Typically diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, MS is one of the most frequent neurological diseases affecting young adults today and is extremely prevalent in New York – in fact New York has one of the highest MS population in the country,” said Jubelt.  “What happens in patients with MS is myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system, is damaged, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue – or sclerosis – which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.”

In addition to supporting groundbreaking stem cell research projects, the state’s investment has been a tool for economic development by creating or maintaining more than 400 jobs at Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY) institutions since the program’s inception. It is attracting world-renowned researchers and scientists to New York.

According to a 2012 AMSNY report, New York’s funding commitment is critical to the state’s stem cell research and patient communities given its unique nature. New York State Stem Cell Science (NYSTEM) funds early stage projects that have not been able to access other funding sources such as those granted by the National Institutes of Health. NYSTEM also is distinct among other research grants in that it provides funding for capital projects and equipment, allowing institutions to develop or expand their stem cell research infrastructure.

“Not only are physicians and scientists making progress towards understanding how to treat and prevent MS, they are generating jobs, attracting promising young women and men into medical and scientific careers here in New York, and enhancing our state’s leadership in biomedical research,” said Jo Wiederhorn, president and CEO of AMSNY. “None of this would have been possible without NYSTEM.”

The project by the three schools was announced Dec. 19 by AMSNY.

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