A discovery by a scientist studying brain cancer at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation could be key to improving multiple sclerosis treatment.
OMRF scientist Rheal Towner, Ph.D., is studying potential treatments for a deadly form of brain cancer. Towner discovered ELTD1, a protein key in producing new blood vessels, is present in aggressive tumors. In analyzing the genes of his brain cancer research models, he came across a pattern he recognized.
“A number of genes involved caught my eye,” said Towner. “When we looked closer, we discovered several of them had close associations with multiple sclerosis, including ELTD1.”
MS is a complex autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and is a significant research area at OMRF. More than 3,000 MS patients receive treatment in OMRF’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence.
Towner took his findings to Bob Axtell, Ph.D., an MS researcher at OMRF. The pair combed through MS patient data to look at gene signatures from brain and spinal cord damage from MS patients.
“Lo and behold,” said Axtell, “ELTD1 was higher in brains of patients with MS.” When they looked at animal models of MS with active disease, they again confirmed the protein was stimulated.
This discovery could lead to more precise clinical care for MS patients because of ELTD1’s involvement in the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells inside blood vessels that protects the brain and spinal cord. A damaged or disrupted blood-brain barrier is thought to be an early indicator of MS.
“The blood-brain barrier runs a tight ship under the right circumstances, opening to allow required systems to function efficiently,” said Towner. “But it has to remain closed or be impermeable to prevent infiltration from potentially harmful agents.”
Ultimately, ELTD1 may prove to be an important indicator for MS, signaling the stage of the disease and guiding treatment.
“There is great potential here to improve how we use the medications we already have,” said Axtell. “ELTD1 may prove to be an important marker for therapy, allowing us better strategies and timing of medications for improved patient outcomes.”
The researchers will now investigate how blocking ELTD1 could affect disease progression in different types of MS.
“This is a great example of the cross-pollination that can happen at OMRF,” said Axtell. “Dr. Towner’s findings are rooted in brain cancer research but could ultimately shift the treatment of another devastating disease.”
The findings were published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Diseases. The research was funded by National Multiple Sclerosis Society grant No. RG-1602-07722 and National Institutes of Health grant Nos. R01AI137047, R01EY027346 and S10OD023508.