Consortium of Three Upstate New York Medical Schools Recommended to Receive More Than $12.1 Million for Promising Clinical Trial

Government Relations Committee”Public Relations Committee”

The Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY) today announced that the Empire State Stem Cell Board (NYSTEM) has recommended more than $12.1 million in funding be awarded to a collaborative effort between the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University in Syracuse; the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, SUNY; and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The grant’s focus is on a groundbreaking medical treatment that addresses the underlying causes of physical failure in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). State funding would enable the three medical schools to advance their project quickly, bringing their research to the level of clinical trials in three to four years. The clinical trials would aim to halt the progression of disability in MS patients and possibly provide functional improvement.

“The recommendation to finance this promising research is a monumental step forward for New York’s stem cell program, as well as for the two million people worldwide who are affected by this debilitating condition,” said Dr. Michael Cain, AMSNY’s Vice-Chair, and Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo. “This collaborative effort will link the medical schools in western and upstate New York, leveraging a broader range of expertise and knowledge of this disease and potentially transforming MS therapies.”

State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., said, “This recommended grant funding will enable these upstate, NY institutions to accelerate this essential project by moving their research toward clinical trials. The collaborative research efforts of these outstanding scientists show great promise in preventing the progression of MS.”

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society defines multiple sclerosis (MS) as a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.

“Typically diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, MS is one of the most frequent neurological diseases affecting young adults today and is extremely prevalent in New York – in fact New York has one of the highest MS populations in the country,” said Dr. Burk Jubelt, principal investigator (PI) of the project and professor of Neurology, Microbiology and Immunology at SUNY Upstate University. “What happens in patients with MS is myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system, is damaged, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue – or sclerosis – which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.”

“Today, while there are medications designed to slow MS progression, they neither stop the disease process nor alleviate damage that’s already occurred,” said Dr. Steven Goldman, co-PI and chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester, and co-director of its Center for Translational Neuromedicine. “There is no cure. Ultimately patients go on to develop secondary progressive MS, which is much more debilitating and has no specific therapy. Our study may, in fact, change all of this by preventing disease progression to the secondary stage while repairing damage already done, hence bringing new hope to people affected by the disease.”

According to Dr. Andrew Goodman, co-PI and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the anticipated clinical trial would implant special cells that can reproduce myelin, into the central nervous system of MS patients. “If successful, transplantation of cells that can repair damaged myelin may reverse some of the symptoms and slow the tendency for worsening of the condition over time,” said Dr. Goodman. “It is hoped that this will also protect the nerves and prevent further progression of disability.”

More than 30,000 individuals live with MS in New York State, with the highest concentration residing in upstate regions surrounding the three medical schools hosting the clinical trial. The condition imposes substantial economic burdens on patients, their families and the community as a whole. These burdens include medical care costs, special housing and home care costs, and loss of quality of life. And because it affects young adults, it has a significant impact on New York’s workforce.

“Many MS patients are forced to abandon their jobs and collect unemployment or look for alternative employment once they enter the secondary stage of the disease,” said Dr. Bianca Guttman-Weinstock, co-PI and professor of Neurology at the University at Buffalo. “Based on 2007 cost data from the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, MS is estimated to cost patients in the United States $50,000 or more per person on an annual basis. Over a lifetime this equates to more than $2.2 million – with the most expensive segment occurring during the secondary stage. Advancing this project quickly will save patients and the state millions in medical care costs while improving the health and well-being of thousands in our community, and millions worldwide.”

In 2007, New York State allocated $600 million over 11 years to the Empire State Stem Cell Program (NYSTEM), making it the second largest publically financed stem cell program in the country. To date, New York has awarded nearly $200 million and has recommended an additional $62.2 million of the $600 million to support stem cell research for the purpose of exploring innovative cures and treatment to life threatening and chronic illnesses.

“The committed NYSTEM funding is critical to advancing MS research that has the potential to stop MS and potentially restore function lost to MS,” reports Dr. Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer at the National MS Society. “This promising approach not only assists people with MS move forward with their lives, but it could also help reduce the $28 billion impact that MS costs the economy each year.”

In addition to supporting groundbreaking stem cell research projects, the state’s investment has been a tool for economic development by creating or maintaining more than 400 jobs at AMSNY institutions since the program’s inception. It is attracting world-renowned researchers and scientists to New York.

According to a 2012 AMSNY report, New York’s funding commitment is critical to the state’s stem cell research and patient communities given its unique nature. NYSTEM funds early stage projects that have not been able to access other funding sources such as those granted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NYSTEM also is distinct among other research grants in that it provides funding for capital projects and equipment, allowing institutions to develop or expand their stem cell research infrastructure.

“Not only are physicians and scientists making progress towards understanding how to treat and prevent MS, they are generating jobs, attracting promising young women and men into medical and scientific careers here in New York, and enhancing our state’s leadership in biomedical research,” said Jo Wiederhorn, President and CEO of AMSNY. “None of this would have been possible without NYSTEM.”

AMSNY is New York’s voice for medical education. It is comprised of the sixteen public and private medical schools in NYS. Its members are:

For more information, please contact:
Deborah Fasser

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