The Gordon Conference: Advancing Myelin Research

In my former career as a neuroscientist, I studied synapses ― nerve connectors that permit nerve cells to pass electrical or chemical signals to another cell. I learned how important it was to understand how the nervous system functions normally, before you can figure out what goes wrong during the course of a disease.

If we are going to repair damage to the myelin casings that protect nerve connections in MS, we have to know everything possible about the biology of how myelin is normally made. That means studying the cells that make myelin, the genes that instruct them, the molecules they interact with, and the proteins they make. This requires the whole scientific community working together – and that’s what happens at the Myelin Gordon Research Conference, which I recently attended in Ventura, CA.

This conference gets many experts from across the myelin field together – 200 scientists and clinicians, from academia, industry, and the nonprofit arena – so that they can share and coordinate their myelin research efforts. I like the informal and open spirit of the conference; anything can be presented, even unpublished data, without concern of it getting released prematurely. This atmosphere leads to true collaboration on areas of research where there are unmet needs.

Very promising research was presented on high-throughput screening ― a technology that allows researchers to screen thousands of drugs at once for their capabilities. This is a key technologic development that can speed drug discovery exponentially. A couple of groups are working on screening thousands of FDA-approved therapies for their ability to drive myelin repair. Some of these treatments are approved to treat very different diseases so they might not otherwise be considered for repair in MS. Yet, if the research holds up, we will be many steps ahead of the game since these therapies are already on the market.

Another thing I really I like about the Gordon Conference is that it welcomes young scientists. In fact, they recently started having a meeting just before the main conference that features talks by postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, providing an opportunity for young researchers to deliver their first presentations of their work.

This year, the meeting for young scientists was chaired by J. Bradley Zuchero, PhD, of Stanford University, who has just received a Career Transition Fellowship Award from the National MS Society. He is working in the lab of expert neurobiologist Ben Barres, PhD. Often in research there are questions that go unanswered for a long time, until technology catches up. Brad’s research is one such example of this. He is studying the ‘simple’ question of how myelin wraps around nerve fibers. But he is using new tools that will help him to understand the scaffolding that allows myelin to wrap around nerve cells. We may discover new clues for repairing myelin in people with MS if we gain a deeper understanding of how it forms.

This meeting was not exclusive to MS – researchers talked about other diseases involving myelin and nerve cells.  Collaborating on this wide spectrum is absolutely necessary if we are to move research forward faster and find solutions that change the lives of everyone with MS.

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Claude Schofield, PhD

Dr. Claude Schofield is Director of Discovery Research at the National MS Society. He began his career as a biomedical researcher, focused on the nervous system. He research has been published in Journal of Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, and Neural Development.

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  • LAURIE GARVIN   May 20, 2014 2:16 PM
  • Dee Ryden   May 20, 2014 2:40 PM
    Dr. Claude Schofield, I am eternally grateful, MS skips generations in my family. MS needs to stop, saying this I realize the the complexity of this disease.
  • Catherine   May 20, 2014 4:08 PM
    That pipeline is jam packed with such potentials! Thank you for your hard work and instilled hope for many! :)
  • Helen Procxtor   May 20, 2014 5:41 PM
    Tomorrow, 5/21/14, I will be working at a conference sponsored by the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy in Washington DC. I will be the "room monitor" in the power-chair. If you come to this meeting please stop and say hello
  • Cab  May 20, 2014 9:12 PM
    When it is possible, would you mind pointing us to the primary research publications about promising research you learn about? The scientist in me would really like to take a deeper look. Thanks for bringing this research to us.
  • Jennifer Gilliam   May 20, 2014 10:01 PM
    I would like to see more studies done on "Neurological protection and damage reversal" from Cannabinoids (CBD's) the cannabis plant has to offer...

    In Sept. of 2013 my brain MRI report stated one new MS lesion and multiple, active "demyelinating lesion's". In March 2014 another MRI report stated, "No active demyelination, and no new lesion's! The only thing I did differently between the MRI scan's was taking 15 drops a day of CBD Hemp Oil.
    Now this is too dramatic of a change to discount that CBD oil had no effect on my MS activity.

    I have RRMS but I refuse to submit my brain and body to any disease modifying drugs. Any form of chemotherapy scares me! So I'm trying alternative modalities and am very interested in more research to be done on the Endocannabinoid system, and the effects CBD can have on neuroplasticity, repair and protection in MS patient's like me.

    Please, please, please discuss this at the conference! Other countries are...why isn't the United State's?

    "Cannabinoids & Neurodegeneration
    Emerging evidence also indicates that cannabinoids may play a role in slowing the progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's Disease). Recent animal studies have shown cannabinoids to delay disease progression and inhibit neurodegeneration in mouse models of ALS, Parkinson's, and MS. As a result, the Journal of Neurological Sciences recently pronounced, "There is accumulating evidence ... to support the hypothesis that the cannabinoid system can limit the neurodegenerative processes that drive progressive disease," and patient trials investigating whether the use of oral THC and cannabis extracts may slow the progression of MS are now underway in the United Kingdom."
  • Avatar
    dmaskal  May 27, 2014 8:22 AM
    Did this myelin research conference generate any new ideas regarding myelin repair? I'm a research scientist who had to take disability leave 27 years ago because of chronic progressive MS.
  • DJ Graham   May 28, 2014 3:05 PM
    Has research on re-mylination included any specific research regarding the repair of damage to the Optic Nerve? I also am wondering if the destruction of mylin tissue around the spine and hippocampus/base of skull is related to brain volume loss. I've had RRMS for over 23 yrs without any obvious symptoms until recently (since I experienced menopause two years ago at 53). A recent flurry of tests, including MRI, show no active lesions. But I cannot walk without a cane. My balance is gone. Might get wheelchair. NOT YET - believe more exercise and attention to my diet and immersion in my artistic endeavors are my BEST MEDICINE. My manifesto for a life ENGAGED is this: LOVE PURPOSE AND CONNECTION.
  • Avatar
    Claude Schofield, PhD  May 29, 2014 2:27 PM
    dmaskal, Yes, there was exciting research presented on how signals from nerve cells themselves may enhance myelin repair, particularly through a protein called “neuregulin.” For a publication from this team, please see here. Please visit our site for more about repairing the damage caused by MS.
  • Avatar
    Claude Schofield, PhD  May 29, 2014 2:29 PM
    Cab, much of the research presented at this conference has not been published. However, please see the publication I referred to in my previous response. Also, Drs. Zuchero and Barres recently published an overview of their work – see here: