David Serrano Sewell reflects on MS Awareness Month, the need for therapies

David Serrano Sewell is a patient advocate member of CIRM’s governing board. His bio is available on our website.

When I began serving on the CIRM governing board in 2005 it was with the hope that I could be part of guiding the agency’s decisions in a way that would benefit the many people in California who are looking to CIRM for new therapies.

I have been active with the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society since my own diagnosis with MS. Right now, there are no cures for the disease, just drugs that can help slow it’s progression or mitigate the symptoms, though those also come at a price. The most common drug causes flu-like symptoms and the effectiveness diminishes over time. It’s a disease in need of more effective therapies.

March is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, and it seems like a good time to look back on what we’ve accomplished at CIRM to find a stem cell-based therapy for the disease.

We’ve funded two awards to researchers who are directly studying MS. One is to Thomas Lane at the University of California, Irvine (here is a summary of that award). He is looking at ways of using human embryonic stem cells to replace the insulation surrounding nerves that is lost in MS. The other is to Samuel Pleasure at the University of California, San Francisco (here is a summary of that award). He is attempting to start with nerve stem cells and mature them into precursors of the types of cells that form that insulation. He then proposes transplanting those precursors into people with MS to treat the disease.

Both of these projects are in their early stages and it’s too soon to know whether they will blossom into new therapies. What I do know is that without these kinds of early stage projects we will never see more effective therapies for MS reaching patients.

As part of the governing board I am part of the group that makes decisions not only on which individual awards to fund, but also on big picture issues. We make decisions on whether new stem cell research facilities would speed new therapies, and how to ensure that California remains a leader in stem cell research by funding training and career development. Although those awards don’t have a single-minded focus on MS, they will help bring new therapies for all the patients who I was elected to represent.

I hope in future MS Awareness Months to be able to point to new research projects picking up where these early stage ones leave off. Getting from early research to promising therapies is a long and often difficult process, but it’s one that I’m proud to play a role in directing.

You can read more about MS on the CIRM website.

David Serrano Sewell

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