Scientists dream of making a discovery that meaningfully impacts human health. For multiple sclerosis researcher Robert Axtell, Ph.D., that dream brought him to OMRF.
OMRF’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence, which opened in 2011, provides tremendous opportunities to collaborate with clinicians to better understand and treat the disease, said Axtell.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the nervous system to carry signals to and from the brain. Inflammation causes damage to myelin, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells, slowing and sometimes blocking nerve impulses. The disease carries with it a variety of symptoms, including problems with vision, tremors, paralysis, painful spasms, imbalance, and cognitive changes.
“There aren’t many places like OMRF,” he said. “Here I’ll have the ability to work with Drs. Gabriel Pardo and Farhat Husain to access patient samples and ask interesting questions about how the disease works. That’s a big deal.”
Thousands of patients from Oklahoma and surrounding states come to the MS Center of Excellence each year for diagnosis, treatment, physical therapy and clinical trials. The one-stop-shop approach works well for patients, but it also allows researchers like Axtell to work with people on the front lines of treating the disease.
“By combining laboratory research with clinical observations, we can learn more about how MS begins and progresses—and hopefully find ways to slow or stop the disease in its tracks.”
Axtell’s research interest focuses on how therapies behave in patients with different autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, as well as MS.
“MS seems to be a very different beast compared to other autoimmune diseases. Drugs that have worked in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis actually make MS worse. That is a very perplexing observation that hasn’t been resolved.”
He’s also researching neuromyelitis optica, a disease that shares similarities with multiple sclerosis, and is looking for biomarkers that differentiate the two. He recently received a 3-year, $750,000 grant to study the cellular and molecular pathways that contribute to NMO and MS in order to find new drug targets to treat patients.
The grant, No. 4 R00 NS075099-03, is provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
OMRF is currently raising $5 million for the Eureka Moments campaign, which will expand both clinical and research capabilities at the MS Center of Excellence.
Those interested in contributing can email Penny-Voss@omrf.org or call (405) 271-7400.