MS is a very varied disease and people experience different levels of disability. The majority of people with MS are diagnosed with a form of the disease called relapsing-remitting MS, which is characterised by acute attacks followed by periods of remission in which there is no disease activity or disability progression. Over a 15 to 20 year period, around half of these people will go on to develop a form of MS called secondary progressive MS where there is a gradual accumulation of disabilities. The rarest form, primary progressive MS, is shows progressive disability from the start. Unfortunately, there are very limited treatment options for people with the progressive forms disease.
The development of treatments for progressive MS is hampered by the current lack of understanding of the biochemical mechanisms that differentiate relapsing-remitting MS from the progressive forms. Dr Crouch has discovered that copper which is normally found in the body, is not distributed normally in the body of people with progressive MS. He suggests this may affect the function of some of the body's enzymes, leading to changes in the biochemical processes in individual cells.
In this project, Dr Crouch will quantify the distribution and amount of copper in tissue from the brain and spinal cord in people with and without MS. He is also hoping to understand how copper in the body influences the molecular mechanisms that underpin progressive MS, and to begin pre-clinical trials of a potential therapy for progressive forms of the disease.
In the first year of this three-year project, Dr Crouch and his research team have generated promising data that helps reveal the role that copper might be playing in the development of progressive MS, and its potential as a therapeutic target.
Dr Crouch's data supports the team’s hypothesis on the involvement of copper in progressive MS. This data has come from their analysis of myelin changes in mouse models of MS-like illness. They have also been able to show preliminary data indicating that the changes in copper levels in mice respond to treatment with a copper-based drug. Their analysis of copper levels from post-mortem tissue from people with MS also supports these findings and indicates that the laboratory findings may mirror the situation in humans. This is a promising indication that the copper-based drug could eventually be taken forward for testing in people with MS.
Dr Crouch and his team will now continue to investigate the extent to which differences in copper levels may naturally occur in people who do not have MS, and therefore how specific their relevance is for progressive MS. They will also continue to investigate the drug treatment with the aim of optimising it for testing in MS.
These findings have been presented at a symposium in Tokyo, and have attracted exciting international collaborations. The team are also preparing their initial findings for publication in a scientific journal.
Updated: 31 March 2019
Updated: 05 January, 2018