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As published in the UConn Advance, March 17, 2008.

Health Center, Stanford Venture May Lead to Advance in MS Treatment

By Chris DeFrancesco

Researcher David Han in the proteomics lab at the UConn Health Center.

Researcher David Han in the proteomics lab at the UConn Health Center.

Photo by Al Ferreira

A collaboration between the UConn Health Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine may lead to an advance in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Using data analysis from the Proteomics and Biological Mass Spectrometry Core at the Health Center, Stanford researchers were able to identify therapeutic targets associated with MS. Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteins.

Proteomics core director David Han says the research, published in the Feb. 17 issue of the journal Nature, is one of the first studies where human disease tissue proteins are carefully analyzed to come up with important molecules in the progression of MS. Han is one of the senior authors of the paper.

“The collaboration with David Han and his team gave us the opportunity to combine proteomics and immunology,” says Dr. Lawrence Steinman, chair of the Stanford immunology program.

“Proteomics is one of the most important technological tools for hunting proteins in the brains of multiple sclerosis patients. We combined this tool provided by the expert team at UConn with our own skills in understanding the immunology of inflammation. David Han’s team opened a gold mine for identification of new targets in MS.”

Steinman’s team had tissue samples of brain lesions from deceased MS patients. The connection to UConn was made through Han’s sister Dr. May Han, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford.

The Stanford researchers sent the samples to the Health Center for proteomic analysis, a high-tech process of studying protein structure and function.

The result was the identification of more than 2,500 proteins, the largest catalog of MS brain lesions to date.

“Their in-depth knowledge and keen insights in disease pathogenesis enabled the Stanford scientists to select important molecules from the list of identified proteins we were able to catalog,” says David Han.

The Stanford researchers identified two specific proteins having to do with blood coagulation as potential therapeutic targets.

Using drugs that block either of those proteins in mice with MS symptoms, they noticed improvement in the severity of the disease.

Once possible therapeutic targets are identified, clinical trials are needed to prove them in humans, David Han says.

“This is a good case of collaboration with another institution, where cutting-edge proteomic methods can be used to identify proteins that are important for human diseases. These methods may one day help accelerate the whole drug discovery process.”

May Han says, “If our hypothesis is correct, the findings can be directly applied to patients.”

She adds, however, that researchers are still very early in the process of being able to tailor drug therapies for humans.

The UConn Proteomics and Biological Mass Spectrometry Core has six mass spectrometers, which scientists use to carry out this large-scale analysis of proteins. Its scientists have been developing and optimizing tissue-based proteomic methods to help identify human disease markers for eight years.

Last year, they published studies on the use of proteomic analysis in the research of prostate cancer, leukemia, and human heart disease cells.

“Those other studies led to the optimizing of our proteomics technologies,” says David Han.

“This latest study is the showcase where we can now interface with human disease. Proteomics has the potential to be a reliable tool for translational medicine.”

The study abstract is available on the Nature website.