At a recent event in Cherry Hill, N.J., longtime Children's Hospital researcher Judith Grinspan, PhD, received the "Professional Impact Award" from the Greater Delaware Valley Multiple Sclerosis Society. Dr. Grinspan has spent more than 25 years examining how multiple sclerosis damages the nervous system, and ways that damage might be repaired, and is the first researcher to receive this new award from the Greater Delaware Valley Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an often debilitating chronic disease of the central nervous system in which myelin — the fatty sheath that insulates the nerves — is damaged, leading to nerve signaling loss. There is no cure for MS. While a variety of drugs exist to manage the disease's symptoms and to slow its progression, current treatments are only effective up to a certain point, Dr. Grinspan pointed out.

Much of Dr. Grinspan's research has been devoted to better understanding oligodendrocytes, cells of the central nervous system that produce myelin. Her work on oligodendrocytes recently led to a collaboration with neonatologist Rebecca Simmons, MD, examining intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), a relatively common complication of pregnancy. The researchers looked at the process of oxidative stress — an imbalance between free radicals and free radical scavengers that is commonly associated with prematurity and IUGR.

Oxidative stress can lead to white matter injury and insufficient myelin, which can increase the risk of newborns being born with developmental delays that can lead to cognitive deficits or cerebral palsy. Oxidative stress is also present in multiple sclerosis, and is thought to damage oligodendrocytes in much the same way.

In their search for ways to treat oxidative stress, the researchers examined the impact bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) have on the development of oligodendrocytes. Previous work by Drs. Grinspan and Simmons showed that BMP inhibits oligodendrocyte maturation, so the researchers used cell culture and animal models to show that oxidative stress arrests myelination through BMP.

If BMP signaling could be arrested in fetuses or newborns or in adults with MS, the hope is that the development of diseases like cerebral palsy or MS could be stopped in their tracks.