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Industry-Academic Team Studies Myelin Renewal

Nerve cells illustration

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

1 August 2019. Researchers are studying techniques for blocking proteins that damage myelin, the protective coating on nerve cells, as occurs in multiple sclerosis and other diseases. The collaboration joining biotechnology company Rewind Therapeutics in Leuven, Belgium, the Stem Cell Institute at the university KU Leuven, and semiconductor R&D organization Imec also in Leuven is funded by a €2.9 million ($US 3.2 million) grant from the Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship agency in Belgium.

Myelin is the fatty, protective substance around nerve fibers, as well as nerve cells themselves. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the central nervous system and damages myelin. Scar tissue from the damaged myelin, known as sclerosis, distorts the nerve signals sent to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms ranging from mild numbness to loss of vision or paralysis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates 2.3 million people worldwide are living with the disorder.

The team aims to discover and develop therapies that block the effects of certain G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, a group of proteins found on the surface of cells that receive various signals from many different types of cells. As many as half of all current drugs bind to or act on GPCRs. In this case, the researchers are targeting a specific GPCR that damages myelin, and implicated in diseases like multiple sclerosis where myelin damage occurs. The researchers hypothesize that inhibiting this GPCR will prevent further myelin damage and allow its renewal.

The researchers plan to develop a technology platform for discovery of new therapies for addressing this GPCR target. For this project, the Stem Cell Institute at the KU Leuven is creating tests based on human stem cells to screen for treatment candidates able to block this specific GPCR. The Stem Cell Institute studies precursor cells for oligodendrocytes that produce myelin.

Imec is developing new chip devices for this initiative to measure the regeneration of myelin around nerve cells. The organization designs chips that interact with nerve cells for diagnosis of neurological conditions.

Rewind Therapeutics discovers treatments for disorders resulting from myelin damage. The company was formed in January 2018, spun-off from the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery at KU Leuven and the drug discovery company Axxam in Milan, Italy. Rewind is currently focusing on mechanisms in the body that inhibit proper functioning of oligodendrocytes in the brain, increasing damage to myelin, and preventing its regeneration around nerve cells.

“Therapies that promote myelin repair,” says Rewind Therapeutics CEO Ian Reynolds in a company statement, “would represent an unprecedented approach to treating multiple progressive neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and could prevent or reverse disability.”

Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship is a Belgian agency that provides funding, collaboration, and innovation clusters for new companies based on science and technology in the Flanders region of the country.

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