Vol 9. Issue 16 / May 11, 2009
New Foundation Funds Scripps Research Team
By Mika Ono
The Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation has chosen two researchers from The Scripps Research Institute to be among those receiving support in its first round of funding. Argyrios Theofilopoulos, Chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbial Science, and Roberto Baccala, an Associate Professor in this Department, will receive a generous donation from the foundation over two years to conduct research on a disease called neuromyelitis optica (NMO).
Until recently thought to be a form of multiple sclerosis (MS), NMO is now considered a distinct autoimmune disease. The condition affects the optic nerves and spinal cord, leading to pain in the eyes and vision loss, as well as to weakness and numbness throughout the body. At more advanced stages, the condition can also involve sensory disturbances, loss of bladder and bowel control, and paralysis of the arms and legs. To date, little research has been conducted on the disease.
"We are thrilled to be part of the effort to better understand neuromyelitis optica and to work toward more effective treatments for this disorder," said Theofilopoulos. "Thank you to the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation for its support and to Dr. Katja Van Herle and Jacinta Behne of Scripps Research Community Outreach for Research and Education (CORE) and the Greater Good Foundation for bringing us together with this new organization."
The Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation was founded by Bill Guthy and Victoria Jackson, in conjunction with the Greater Good Foundation, to promote basic research in NMO after their daughter was diagnosed with the disease in June 2008.
NMO leads to loss of myelin, a fatty substance coating nerve fibers, when immune system cells attack and destroy these cells. An autoantibody to aquaporin 4 (AQP4), the main water channel expressed in the central nervous system, has been linked to NMO, appearing in most individuals with the condition, but not in patients with MS.
"Considering that AQP4 is expressed throughout the brain and even in peripheral tissues, it is unclear why damage occurs primarily in the spinal cord and optic nerves," said Baccala. "Clearly, we have much to learn, and an animal model, the primary goal of our project, will greatly facilitate our understanding of this disease. Scripps Research is the ideal place to advance this project, because the institution offers such broad scientific expertise in biology and chemistry and a strong commitment to collaboration. "
Working with Scripps Research Associate Professor Philip Dawson of the Department of Cell Biology, Theofilopoulos and Baccala will focus their initial efforts on inducing anti-AQP4 autoantibodies in mice. From there, it will be possible to investigate the mechanisms of these antibodies, specific immune cell-priming events, the contribution of genetics, as well as novel therapeutic approaches.
"We are eager to see scientific results for the future benefit of patients," said Theofilopoulos. "We would like to help."
Learn more about the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation at http://www.guthyjacksonfoundation.org.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu