Buffalo Neurologist Talks Recent Discoveries, Research Environments, and Funding

M. Laura Feltri, M.D.

Professor, Departments of Biochemistry and Neurology

Researcher, Hunter James Kelly Research Institute

Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo

What is your academic and professional background?

I earned my M.D. from the University of Milano in my home country of Italy, after which I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. I returned to Milano to do my residency in neurology, and then conducted research at the San Raffaele institute in Italy before returning to the U.S. with my husband to join him in launching the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo in 2011.

What is your area of research, and what is the potential impact of the research?

The ultimate goal of my research is to develop improved treatments for myelin-related neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), leukodystrophies and peripheral neuropathies which could also have implications for other neurological conditions such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s disease or aging in general.

My research primarily involves studying the formation of myelin (the process of myelination), a substance that surrounds the axons of nerve and brains cells and is required for them to function properly. Failure in myelin synthesis and myelin breakdown cause several important neurological diseases, including MS and leukodystrophies, among others.

I’m looking to answer basic science research questions about myelination in the central and peripheral nervous system – what causes it, what stops it, and how it might be possible to control the process. Recent discoveries include isolating a molecule which, when deleted, inhibits the creation of myelin. Another study involved observing how the types of cells that make myelin respond to mechanical stimuli (e.g. pressure, tension) as opposed to chemical stimuli.

What makes for a good research environment?

A good research environment is one filled with experts in a wide range of fields who can lend you their expertise, enabling you to expand the scope of your research. We certainly have that at UB, and my research has benefited greatly from collaboration between departments.

State of the art equipment is also essential to keep a strong pace of innovation, and I’m lucky to have shared access to some incredible tools.

How is your research funded? And why is it important to fund basic science research?

The faculty at Hunter James Kelly Research Institute are funded by the University at Buffalo, and the staff and the research we do is supported by a combination of grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Hunter’s Hope Foundation and the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association.

This funding for basic science research is essential and must continue and grow. This kind of research helps us understand how diseases develop, leading to treatments and cures. It’s the building block for all our modern medicine.