A few weeks ago, the MS Society announced the recipients of two translational research grants provided through a partnership between the MS Society and Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD). Dr. Veronique Miron, Principal Investigator at the University of Edinburgh, was one of two researchers selected for funding for her translational research in progressive MS (catch up on translational research on my Research Decoder).
Now that the dust stirred up by the announcement has settled, we had an opportunity to (virtually) sit down with Dr. Miron and ask her about her fascinating research as well as the inspiring story of her career in MS research, from an MS Society-funded trainee to a talented principal investigator and translational research leader.
How did you become interested in MS research?
I have long been interested in the brain and how it can change, both in beneficial ways (like being able to adapt to changes, or in learning) and in the context of disease, like MS. Growing up in Canada where MS is very prevalent, I was very aware that it is a debilitating disorder. The first person I met with MS was my husband’s aunt, Ruth, 15 years ago, who was wheelchair bound and recounted of her experience being affected as a young mother. I was strongly affected by finding out that MS strikes in young adults at the prime of their lives, and that there are no therapies for progressive disease. This is why I chose to carry out research in my PhD and postdoc related to promoting regeneration in MS, a commitment I’ve carried forward to my own lab.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab, and what are some challenges you have faced or may face in the future?
What I most enjoy about working in the lab is being able to make exciting new discoveries that have the potential to be developed into treatments to improve the quality of life for people with MS. These discoveries take time, and there may be obstacles to overcome such as troubleshooting experiments, obtaining research funds to carry out the research, and finding the right partnerships to help transition from a laboratory finding into drug development.
Was funding support during your postdoctoral fellowship important in helping you establish a career as an academic investigator?
The fellowship I received from the MS Society of Canada during my postdoc was instrumental in ensuring my success as an academic researcher, allowing me to pursue my own research idea during my training and to maintain networks and collaborations with other MS researchers in Canada at MS Society-funded conferences. It also helped secure my academic position to start up my own lab, as it showed that I could independently get research funds from a project I conceived. Overall this funding helped me continue carrying out MS research.
How will your collaboration with CDRD help you to achieve your research objectives?
Failure of myelin repair is considered to contribute to nerve fibre loss and clinical disability in progressive MS. Most MS lesions failing to repair show a block in the ability of stem cells to mature into cells that make the new myelin, called oligodendrocytes. As there are currently no approved MS therapies aimed at encouraging myelin repair, there is a need for the identification of new drug targets that could lead to development of effective treatments for progressive MS. Our recent work has found that stimulating specific proteins on the surface of the stem cells, called activin receptors, causes them to mature into oligodendrocytes and repair myelin. The next step to drug development is to find molecules that could stimulate the activin receptors to drive stem cells to become oligodendrocytes, with the purpose of developing a pro-remyelination drug. Our collaboration with CDRD and the MS Society allows us to do this by doing large-scale screening of thousands of molecules in CDRD’s library for ones able to stimulate the activin receptors in stem cells. As CDRD helps bring discoveries from the lab into clinical development in industry, we believe that this project will help identify molecules that can lead to new effective therapies to promote myelin repair in MS.
What are some gaps facing researchers such as yourself in translating research discoveries into therapeutic options? How can funding opportunities such as this one overcome these challenges?
As a basic scientist, it can be difficult to transition from making exciting discoveries in the lab to development of therapeutics for humans due to several reasons: the lack of infrastructure for drug development at universities, lack of funding opportunities available for such studies, and difficulties in seeking out pharmaceutical partnerships. The collaboration with CDRD overcomes these challenges by allowing researchers such as myself to work together with their staff in designing studies to help find new potential drugs, supported by the appropriate infrastructure for drug development and by their established industrial links needed to take this discovery forward. This is a truly unique opportunity that I believe will accelerate the transition from lab discovery to treatment of people with MS.
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