ECU professor Dr. Mark Mannie is researching vaccines that might treat or prevent multiple sclerosis. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Grants to aid search for MS vaccine

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Nearly $2 million in federal grants are helping an East Carolina University scientist look for a vaccine that could help fight or prevent multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Mark Mannie, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, has received the grants from the National Institutes of Health.

In a pair of research projects, Mannie is working on vaccines that could prevent, treat or control MS, a disease of the central nervous system. They would be a new class of vaccine that would target the specific process that causes the fatty myelin sheaths that surround nerve tissue in the brain and spinal cord to become damaged. That damage, called demyelination, and its scarring lead to a variety of symptoms affecting the muscles, eyes, bladder and other parts of the body.

Since the process that causes the myelin to become damaged is an autoimmune response, or one where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, the vaccines would suppress that immune response instead of boosting an immune response as other vaccines do.

An advantage of these vaccines is they do not suppress the entire immune system. They also train the immune system to fight the inflammation that causes the demyelination, thus requiring fewer and lower doses of medicine for MS, saving money and reducing side effects.

MS is a devastating disease that afflicts approximately 400,000 Americans and more than 2 million people around the world, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

It is a progressive and usually fluctuating disease with exacerbations (patients feeling worse) and remissions (patients feeling better) over many decades, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In many patients with MS, permanent disability and even death can occur. The cause of MS is unknown. The most widely held hypothesis is that MS occurs in patients with a genetic susceptibility and is triggered by certain environmental factors.

The disease is three times more common in women than men, with diagnoses usually made as young adults; however, it has been estimated that between 2 percent and 5 percent of cases begin before age 16, according to the CDC.

Mannie has spent much of his career studying the disease. Last year, he was named to the 2010 Researchers Hall of Fame by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Mannie was recognized for several important contributions to MS research, including the recent development of a fusion protein that might lead to a vaccine therapy for multiple sclerosis.



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