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SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
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MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS RESEARCH
 

Program Director:
Rhonda Voskuhl, M.D.

Program Faculty:
Rhonda Voskuhl, M.D.

Contact Information:
Phone:
Fax:
310-206-2176
310-206-9801

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS PROGRAM

Mission:
To improve the lives of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Overview:
The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Program at UCLA aims to improve the lives of MS patients by developing new therapies for MS. This is accomplished through basic science in neuroscience, genetics, and immunology, as well as highly advanced neuroimaging and electrophysiology. The overall goal of this cutting edge research is to translate basic research findings into new treatments for MS through novel therapeutic trials. Four translational clinical trials have been conducted by Dr. Voskuhl based on work originating in her research lab, with two of these trials involving many sites across the U.S.

The Research:
Research in the UCLA MS Program is the epitome of translational research whereby findings are taken from the basic science "bench to the bedside." Uniquely however, the UCLA MS program's basic research starts with clinical observations such that it is actually a "bedside to bench to bedside" approach. The MS Program aims to answer clinical questions in MS such as why the disease remits during pregnancy, why men are affected less often, and why inflammation gives way to neurodegeneration as the disease progresses. These questions are pursued with basic research, and their answers often lead to novel treatments in MS, which aim to reverse the natural history of the disease or capitalize on situations where the disease is known to be quiescent.

Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl is the Jack H. Skirball Chair in MS Research and is the overall director of the M.S. Program at UCLA. She is an internationally recognized expert in MS. Dr. Voskuhl designs and conducts clinical trials in MS based on basic research findings made in the most widely used model of MS, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). The Voskuhl laboratory is focused on understanding basic mechanisms of inflammation, neurodegeneration and neural repair. Dr. Voskuhl's strength is her ability to do basic research at the cellular and molecular levels in the MS model, then to translate these basic findings into the design of novel treatment trials in MS patients. She has had two novel agents in four treatment trials for MS completed or underway based on basic research results from her laboratory. See UCLA Dept of Neurology's MS Clinical website for more information. One area of interest has been gender differences in autoimmunity and neurodegeneration with respect to the role of sex hormones and sex chromosomes. The Voskuhl lab has made the discovery that sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and sex chromosomes (XX and XY) each contribute to disease susceptibility and progression. These findings are suggesting candidate neuroprotective treatments for MS and potentially other neurodegenerative diseases. She has also extended these findings to other autoimmune diseases such as the role of such factors in lupus. Dr. Voskuhl has received numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National MS Society (NMSS) grants, and is also working with private industry to develop next generation novel treatments. In 2013, she was one of five finalists for the Barancik Prize from the National MS Society, an award recognizing the Most Innovative MS Researcher in the World.

The major strength of the UCLA MS Research Program lies in its collaborations with basic scientists beyond the Program itself, and often beyond the UCLA Department of Neurology, to capture the extraordinary expertise of the UCLA Neuroscience community, focusing this tremendous pool of minds on finding a cure for MS. The UCLA Neuroscience community is truly extraordinary in its breadth and excellence. It holds within it a vast array of expertise and brilliance. The MS Program has had remarkable success in collaborating with experts in various areas to ask and answer questions in MS that would not have otherwise been thought of or made possible. Major collaborators from outside the MS program include, but are not limited to, the following:

Dr. Michael Sofroniew, Professor, Dept. of Neurobiology, UCLA, an expert in neuroscience, glial biology and genetic engineering of molecules in cells within the brain.

Dr. Thomas O'Dell, Professor, Dept. of Physiology, UCLA, an expert in synaptic plasticity and electrophysiologic function in the brain.

Dr. Arthur Arnold, Professor, Dept. of Integrative Biology & Physiology, an expert in the effect of sex hormone and sex chromosome effects on the brain.

Dr. Allan MacKenzie-Graham, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Neurology, UCLA, an expert in neuroimaging of MS animal models.

Dr. Robert Elashoff, Professor, Dept. of Biomathematics, UCLA, an expert in clinical trial design, management and trial statistical analysis.

To summarize the research of the UCLA MS Program, it is equipped with the ability to do a wide variety of research in MS ranging from animal models of MS to patients with MS. This wide ranging capability is strongly focused toward developing novel treatments for MS, with two basic findings having already reached the level of ongoing clinical trials in MS. Evidence of the research ability of the UCLA MS Program can be found in its track record of high levels of funding from the NIH and NMSS over the last 15 years. The UCLA MS Program was one of the first MS Programs awarded an MS Collaborative Center Award from the National MS Society with Dr. Voskuhl as the Principle Investigator. This Collaborative Award recognizes MS Programs that bring in collaborators from outside the MS field to apply their expertise to advance research in MS.

Teaching and Training:
The training of clinician scientists and basic scientists is an important mission of the MS Program. Numerous researchers have obtained their Ph.D. in Dr. Voskuhl MS laboratory, and countless UCLA undergraduates have worked in various MS program labs learning to do MS research over the last decades. The MS Program also partners with high school students in mentoring students in MS research. The MS Program provides education to medical students, physicians, physicians, scientists, health care professionals, and the public. Additionally, the program provides educational resources such as courses for community healthcare professionals.

Community Relations and Support:
The UCLA MS program owes much of its success to the philanthropic support it has received over the years for its highly innovative projects. Support of these highly innovative projects in their infancy has been critical in generating the results needed to later move "high risk" projects into more traditional mechanisms of funding from the NIH and NMSS. Philanthropic supporters have included, but are not limited to, the Jack H. Skirball Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Sherak Family Foundation, the Gustafson Foundation, DirecTV, the Safan Family Foundation, the Diamont Foundation, the Zamucen Foundation and the Elks Club. Without the support of these visionary partners, the achievements of the UCLA MS Program would not have been possible. For further information on how to partner with the UCLA MS program in finding the cure for MS, contact Patti Roderick at 310-267-1837.

Videos:
YouTube - Rhonda Voskuhl: Sex Chromosome Effects in E.A.E. (March 2014)


    

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