Lars Fugger: Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects the brain and the central nervous system. Twenty years ago there were no therapies to treat MS, whereas eight drugs have been registered today. Professor Fugger tries to understand in detail how various genes confer risk to MS, and translate genetic findings into a clinical setting.
Q: What is multiple sclerosis and what causes it?
LF: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the brain and the central nervous system. It's a disease where the immune system all of a sudden instead of attacking invading viruses and bacteria go wrong and start to attack the brain and central nervous system. It's a so-called auto-immune disease. It's unknown today what's causing multiple sclerosis; it's a combination of genetic factors, genes we're getting from our parents and unknown environmental factors.
Q: Can you give us examples of these environmental factors?
LF: It has been discussed for many years which factors in our environment could cause or trigger MS. So we should be careful when we talk about a single factor causing multiple sclerosis. We will have a combination of factors from our genes and from the environment. It has been speculated that Epstein-Barr virus is a triggering factor and there's evidence to suggest this but it's a minor risk factor. Apart from that very few other environmental factors have been identified so far.
Q: Can your research help us to design better treatments?
LF: Our research is trying to take advantage of the genetic revolution that is taking place in real time, right now. So we are exploiting the newly identified genes to understand how they confirm risk, how they predispose to multiple sclerosis. And we are trying to translate that knowledge into a clinical setting.
Q: What are the most important lines of research that have developed over the past 5-10 years?
LF: Clearly twenty years ago we had no therapy we could treat the MS patients with. Today we have eight drugs that have been registered to treat patients with MS. This has all come out of various research programmes. You can't pinpoint a single research programme but you could say that they have all been coming together to show how MS can be treated. What we can treat today is the immune system that simply has gone wrong. We can keep that immune system at bay.
Q: Why does your line of research matter? Why should we put money into it?
LF: Our research is different from many other groups' research in the MS field because we are trying to understand in detail how various genes confer risk to MS. So we are trying to translate genetic findings into a clinical setting. We are trying to understand how you can shine light on mechanisms in MS and how that can be translated into new therapies.
Q: How does your research fit into Translational Medicine within the department?
LF: Our research is fitting quite well into a translational approach within the department as we have already demonstrated how we can translate findings in the lab into a clinical setting. So we have reasonably been showing that a drug that was discovered in our lab also has efficacy. It has a good effect in MS patients. So it's a good example of how you can go from the lab to the bedside and translate basic findings into a clinical, meaningful context.