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Alan Smith, MD/PhD Candidate

Award Name TL1

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Studying the pathology of optic neuritis in multiple sclerosis

The OSU CCTS has awarded Alan Smith, MD/PhD candidate, with a TL1 grant award for his research project “Determining the anatomical nature and the cellular composition of the eye pathology caused by T cells activated in the presence of IL-23." More specifically, Smith is studying optic neuritis which is a symptom commonly seen in patients who have multiple sclerosis (MS).

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve which causes blurriness and impaired vision. Patients often recover from it, however MS frequently relapses and patients begin to have recurring symptoms such as optic neuritis.

MS is an inflammatory disease in the central nervous system. It attacks the brain and spinal cord and often results in nerve deficit. In studying the optic nerve, Smith’s end goal is to develop a well-working animal model that may lead to therapy for optic neuritis in humans.

“In order to study human diseases, we develop models in animals and mice and generally take the simplest organism so we can study it effectively,” Smith said.

To study optic neuritis in a model, Smith is studying a chemical messenger (IL-23) which binds to a receptor or receiver on a cell. In simpler terms, the chemical messenger’s relationship to a receptor is like a remote control for a television set. The receptor signals the cell to tell it what to do and then Smith tests the outcome.

Once the model is induced with outcomes similar to MS, Smith then studies the effects of the disease which usually result in a limp tail and weak hind legs in mice. Smith’s research team hopes to come up with a therapy that will be useful to reverse these symptoms in humans.

Smith credits the classes that the CCTS provides and the CCTS TL1 award with teaching him a lot about translational research and helping to keep focus on translational aspects throughout his study.

Smith is inspired by his love for research. “I am particularly fascinated with the immune system because the immune system is how the body interacts with its environment,” Smith said.

Smith hopes to submit his research for publication sometime in the next year.  His hope is that his work leads to other research that predicts the course of optic neuritis. Though it is a long-term goal, Smith is confident that they will be successful. “We’re working on it,” Smith said.

By Charaun Little, Monday, March 12, 2012

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