Wayne State University

Wayne State professor becomes president of Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers

Robert Lisak, M.D., Wayne State University School of Medicine professor of neurology, was installed as president of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers.

The installation took place at the consortium’s annual meeting in Dallas in May.

The Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers is a professional organization of MS centers and health care providers and researchers in the United States and Canada committed to a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to treatment and care, education and research and advocacy for MS so that the centers can provide the best care and outcomes for patients and their families. The consortium also is an international clearinghouse for research results, the latest treatments, clinical trials and patient education programs. Approximately 100 centers are members. England’s University of Oxford is the first center outside of North America to recently join the consortium.

“It is a great honor to be elected president of the CMSC, which is one of the leading organizations in the battle against multiple sclerosis through its broad multidiscipline approach to treatment, education and research,” said Dr. Lisak, a resident of Bloomfield Township, Mich., who in 2011 received the consortium’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his commitment and research to combat the condition.

Dr. Lisak also was appointed chair of the Foundation of the CMSC, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting the mission of the consortium. The foundation assists in developing the MS workforce through mentored research scholarships, provides annual awards and tools for member working with patients and provides research fellowships and grants.

Dr. Lisak has previously served as the consortium’s research director and secretary. He has served in leadership positions and on committees of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, the International Society of Neuroimmunology, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Guillain Barre Syndrome/CIDP Foundation and the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America. He also has been editor of the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, the journal of the World Federation of Neurology.

Dr. Lisak’s most recent research findings involve the discovery that one or more substances produced by a type of immune cell in people with multiple sclerosis may play a role in the disease's progression. The finding could lead to new targeted therapies for MS treatment.

B cells, he explained, are a subset of lymphocytes (a type of circulating white blood cell) that mature to become plasma cells and produce immunoglobulins, proteins that serve as antibodies. The B cells appear to have other functions, including helping to regulate other lymphocytes, particularly T cells, and helping maintain normal immune function when healthy.

In patients with MS, the B cells appear to attack the brain and spinal cord, possibly because there are substances produced in the nervous system and the meninges - the covering of the brain and spinal cord - that attract them. Once within the meninges or central nervous system, Dr. Lisak said, the activated B cells secrete one or more substances that do not seem to be immunoglobulins but that damage oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce a protective substance called myelin.

The B cells appear to be more active in patients with MS, which may explain why they produce these toxic substances and, in part, why they are attracted to the meninges and the nervous system.

The brain, for the most part, can be divided into gray and white areas. Neurons are located in the gray area, and the white parts are where neurons send their axons - similar to electrical cables carrying messages - to communicate with other neurons and bring messages from the brain to the muscles. The white parts of the brain are white because oligodendrocytes make myelin, a cholesterol-rich membrane that coats the axons. The myelin's function is to insulate the axons, akin to the plastic coating on an electrical cable. In addition, the myelin speeds communication along the axons and makes that communication more reliable. When the myelin coating is attacked and degraded, impulses - messages from the brain to other parts of the body - can "leak" and be derailed from their target. Oligodendrocytes also seem to engage in other activities important to nerve cells and their axons.

Dr. Lisak and his colleagues took B cells from the blood of healthy patients and patients with relapsing-remitting MS. They grew the cells in a medium, and after removing the cells from the culture collected material produced by the cells. After adding the material produced by the B cells, including the cells that produce myelin, to the brain cells of animal models, the scientists found significantly more oligodendrocytes from the MS group died when compared to material produced by the B cells from the healthy control group. The team also found differences in other brain cells that interact with oligodendrocytes in the brain.

The team is applying for grants from several sources to conduct further studies to identify the toxic factor or factors produced by B cells responsible for killing oligodendrocytes. Identification of the substance could lead to new therapeutic methods that could switch off the oligodendrocyte-killing capabilities of B cells, which, in turn, would help protect myelin from attacks.

The research led to the study, "Secretory products of multiple sclerosis B cells are cytotoxic to oligodendroglia in vitro," which was published in the May 2012 edition of the Journal of Neuroimmunology.