CONTACT: L. E. OHMAN
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
UI professor receives $226,000 from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- No one knows for sure what causes multiple sclerosis (MS).
Many scientists think that certain people are genetically predisposed to get
the disease, and MS is triggered when those people are exposed to a virus
or other environmental factor. Just how this happens is also a matter of speculation.
Dr. Stanley Perlman, University of Iowa professor of pediatrics, believes
that MS involves a virus, the immune system and the ability of the virus to
escape the immune response. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society awarded
him $226,641 to investigate this hypothesis over a three-year period in a
mouse model of MS. The grant started April 1, 1997.
Here's how Perlman thinks it might work. A person with the particular genetic
makeup that allows the development of MS is exposed to a virus - the exact
virus is currently unknown. The immune system is activated and destroys most
of the virus; the remaining bit mutates and becomes resistant to "killer"
cells that keep the virus in check. The mutant eludes the immune system and
as the remaining immune response tries to eliminate the virus, it damages
the myelin coating that surrounds many nerves. Damage to this protective sheath
hampers transmission of information along the nerve.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often progressive and disabling disease
that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The symptoms vary with
each individual but often include fatigue, impaired vision, loss of balance
and muscle coordination, speech difficulties, tremors, stiffness, and partial
or complete paralysis.
The Iowa Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that
in 1995 there were more than 2,000 people in the state with the disease.
Mutants that escape killer cell function are found in some patients with
other diseases produced by infections, such as hepatitis B and HIV.
"It happens for sure in a minority of patients," Perlman says,
"but the general importance is controversial since the mutant isn't found
in all patients infected with these viruses."
Perlman's theory that these mutants play an important role in the development
of multiple sclerosis developed from experiments performed in his laboratory.
Investigating the role of the viral mutants in mice is only the first step.
"We hope to eventually study this in humans," he says.