Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating autoimmune disease of the central nervous system and for an unknown reason Canada has the highest rate in the world. Dr. Michael Levin is working to change that.
Levin is a neurologist and professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center and Laboratory of Viral and Demyelinating Diseases, in Memphis, Tenn.
Starting in March, he’ll be joining the University of Saskatchewan as the inaugural MS research chair.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Levine said.
“When I started my career 25 years ago there were no approved medications for MS. Absolutely none … now there are more than a dozen medications and even a new one coming out this year. That’s all due to research.”
Levin and his team have been given $8.4 million over seven years to identify causes of MS and develop new or improved treatments. The group plans to study the relationship between viruses, auto-antibodies and acquired DNA mutations.
“Most of the studies have looked at inherited mutations, we’re interested in the abnormal DNA mutations in people’s bodies that they acquire over a lifetime,” he explained.
It’s estimated that 3,500 to 3,700 people are living with the disease in Saskatchewan and Levin invites them all to take part in the study.
“My hope is that every patient will contribute to research and that’ll contribute to the cure.”
Levin will collaborate with the MS Neuroscience Research Center and clinic at Saskatoon City Hospital. The Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation raised $5.6 million over the past six years to contribute to the research chair.
“This money has been raised a little bit at a time by a few donors, companies in small ways and then from all of our events,” Steve Shannon, CEO of the foundation, said.
“The people of Saskatchewan have helped make this a reality,” he added.
“The more people we have working on a cure and treatments the faster we’re going to get there. I would say we aren’t near the finish line, but this is a big jump across the start line,” Erin Kuan, president of the MS Society of Canada – Saskatchewan, said.