We’re always hearing about new discoveries in MS research; some professor or other discovering some microscopic thingamyjig that may or not hold a vital clue to the disease. With so many experts on the case, it can be hard to keep up – especially when your science know-how peaked in high school (let’s face it, most of us only paid attention when we got to set fire to stuff anyway).
But here’s the thing. Each of these new discoveries, no matter how seemingly small, contributes to the bigger picture, shedding light on the mechanisms of MS and helping doctors to understand how best to treat it. So the most recent discovery involving a protein called Rab23 might sound like just more scientific mumbo jumbo but, combined with all the other studies in this area of MS research, it could be very significant indeed. Pay attention at the back of the class…
Understanding cell changes in MS
The study by researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and the University of Alberta in Canada (nice team work, guys) revealed that people with MS have raised levels of a protein called Rab23 in their brain cells. So far so… sorry nodded off for a second there. OK, so it might not sound that interesting, but here’s the thing: people without MS barely have any of the protein, which suggests it could play an important role in the disease.
So what could be causing the brain cells to produce Rab23 in people with MS? Well, previous studies indicate high levels of the potentially harmful protein are associated with a fault in the mitochondria (that’s the cell’s battery to you and I) that causes it to backfire, triggering toxic changes within the brain cells.
The researchers suspect the problem may lie in another part of the cell known as the endoplasmic reticulum. One of the roles of this snappily-named cell component – let’s just call it the ER, shall we – is to store calcium, a mineral that’s crucial to healthy cell functioning. It appears that if the ER is too close to the mitochondria, this affects the supply of calcium, causing the mitochondria to malfunction and levels of Rab23 to become elevated. Rab23, in turn, causes nerve cell death and the irreversible changes seen in the progressive stages of MS.
What has any of this got to do with you? Well, apart from the fact that you’ll look super brainy when you relay all these impressive facts to your friends, this latest research provides yet another important piece to the MS puzzle. By understanding the role Rab23 plays in the disease, scientists could eventually work out how to target the protein as part of an effective treatment– one that could slow or even prevent the progression of MS altogether.
Of course, none of this will happen overnight. Drug research and development takes years. But rest assured that big breakthroughs are on the horizon and it’s only a matter of time before the guys in the lab coats hit MS where it hurts once and for all. Class dismissed.