Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis
West Palm Beach, Florida


Barancik Prize Winner Links Environment, Gut Microbiome, and Other Immune Cell Influences in MS

Francisco Quintana, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, accepted the Barancik Prize for Innovation in Multiple Sclerosis at the ACTRIMS Forum in West Palm Beach on Thursday, February 27. Dr. Quintana's work opens the door to many novel avenues of research and treatment to meet unmet needs in MS.WEST PALM BEACH, FL — Francisco J. Quintana, PhD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School is the latest recipient of the world's largest research prize in multiple sclerosis (MS). The Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research was presented to Dr. Quintana on February 27 at the 2020 Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum.

Dr. Quintana was recognized for his work on the characterization of signaling pathways that control the activity of the immune system and inflammation in MS. His research is particularly apropos for the ACTRIMS Forum theme of networking, because it ties together many cellular influences in MS, including environmental sources and the gut microbiome.

Despite the significant advances made in treating multiple sclerosis (MS), many gaps remain in our ability to halt disease progression and address existing neurologic damage. Much of the past work in MS has focused on the activity of cells in the peripheral nervous system, such as T and B cells. In the search for new treatment targets, researchers like Dr. Quintana are turning their attention to glial cells in the brain, including microglia and astrocytes. Both of these glial cell types are highly plentiful in the central nervous system (CNS) and serve important functions. Astrocytes outnumber neurons in the CNS by over 5-fold, while microglia account for 10% to 15% of all cells found in the brain. Astrocytes respond to all forms of CNS insults through a process referred to as reactive astrogliosis, a pathological hallmark of CNS structural lesions. Microglia, in turn, act as a first line of immune defense in the CNS by modulating pro-inflammatory and neurotoxic activities in astrocytes. Dr. Quintana's research in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) mouse models of MS identified positive and negative regulators that mediate the microglial control of astrocytes. "These findings suggest pathways through which microbial metabolites limit pathogenic activities of microglia and astrocytes, and suppress CNS inflammation," he said.

Dr. Quintana's research group also developed a new research platform to identify gene–environment interactions that control CNS inflammation that drives the damage that occurs in MS. The studies identified novel pathways involved in the regulation of this inflammation. Moreover, these studies map out a novel way to systematically investigate environmental factors in MS and other diseases.

"Actually these pathways are activated by small chemicals which are provided by many physiological sources, by the diet, by the host metabolism, by the commensal flora," Dr. Quintana told the ACTRIMS audience. "This gives us mechanisms to start to understand how these influences impact the immune processes that are central to the pathogenesis of MS," he explained. "Our approach is not to focus on the T cell directly, but on antigen presenting cells and dendritic cells that control T-cell activation." These findings offer opportunities for therapeutic intervention and the development of nanomedicines that can be applied not only in relapsing and progressive MS but in other far-reaching applications such as brain tumors and other types of tumors, Dr. Quintana said.

The Barancik Prize recognizes exceptional innovation and originality in scientific research relevant to MS, with emphasis on research that may lead to pathways for the treatment and cure of this disease. The international prize is made possible by the generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and is administered through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). Both Charles and Margery Barancik passed away in 2019. "I am deeply honored to be selected for the Barancik Prize, and thank the Award Committee for recognizing our work," Dr. Quintana told the ACTRIMS audience.


By Katherine Wandersee, for the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC)

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