U of A discovery by young scientist opens new area of research

A surprise discovery by a young researcher at the University of Alberta has opened a new area of research into multiple sclerosis.

PhD student Allison Kraus, 26, was studying the gene calnexin under her supervisor Marek Michalak.

They discovered that when they disabled the gene in mice, the animals had mobility issues -- trouble walking and paralysis in their back legs -- similar to what patients with multiple sclerosis and other related diseases often experience.

Looking closer, they found that silencing the gene had caused the protective sheath, or myelin, around the mouse nerves to deform, which disrupted the nerve signals and caused the mobility issues. Those same deformations are found in humans with multiple sclerosis and other related diseases.

"It was actually a very exciting finding," said Michalak. "This really was from curiosity-driven research. It would not have been predictable.

"This is an example of taking risks and winning."

The U of A researchers are still far from finding new treatments for MS, but they are closer to understanding what might cause the disease, said Michalak. The lab's next step will be to take nerve samples from human subjects and confirm that the deformities found in the lab mice and humans are the same. If that is the case, this would be a big discovery that would change how scientists think about MS, he said ...