The Will Reynish Prize

This prize is offered biannually by the Society to assist and encourage UK graduates of medicine at SHO or SpR level to spend some time in a medical capacity in France. The Society is able to give interested parties contact details in France, subject to speciality.

It is named after, and given in memory of, a former member of the Society, Dr William Reynish, who died whilst walking in the Pyrenees. William was an active member of the AFMS and was working in Toulouse at the time of his death.

We request that successful applicants make a presentation to the joint AFMS/AFMB autumn meeting upon their return.

Winner 2005

Winner of The Will Reynish Prize 2004/5 is Dr Anna Williams PhD MRCP(UK), Specialist Registrar in Neurology. She is a Specialist Registrar in Neurology based in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the Western General Hosptial, Edinburgh. Dr Williams is presently working at the Salpetriere in Paris doing two years of post-doctoral research into the myelin sheath and mechanisms of myelin damage which will advance our knowledge of the underlying causes of Multiple Sclerosis.

I am currently working in an INSERM research unit of the Hopital de la Salpetriere in Paris. I have a post here for two years to do mainly laboratory-based research in the field of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), working under the supervision of Professor Catherine Lubetzki.

In MS, for reasons not well understood, plaques of demyelination appear in the brain and spinal cord interrupting saltatory conduction of nerve impulses along axons and the patient can suffer a MS ‘relapse’ with a neurological problem. The demyelination may be permanent and the axons then die leaving a scar of useless central nervous system tissue. However, sometimes the myelin sheath is repaired by oligodendrocytes and functional recovery occurs. The signals promoting or preventing remyelination are not known and even within one patient different plaques can behave in different ways leaving some plaques remyelinated and others as chronic scars.

The process of remyelination is thought to be similar to the initial formation of myelin in development. In development, axons migrate to their targets, followed by oligodendrocytes, which then myelinate the axons. Some of the signals used to direct axons also act on oligodendrocytes. This acts as economy in the system but also as an insurance policy to ensure that axons and oligodendrocytes are intimately associated.

There is a family of molecules called the Semaphorins which are known to affect axons in development and recently these molecules have also been found to act on oligodendrocytes. We are particularly interested in Semaphorin 3A and 3F which are thought to repel and attract oligodendrocytes respectively. The semaphorin molecules use the receptors Neuropilin 1 and 2 which have been found on oligodendrocytes in development.

We are testing the hypothesis that the semaphorin family is involved in the control of repair of MS demyelinated plaques. We are considering this hypothesis by using two systems – using both human post mortem brain and animal models of MS. We have obtained human post mortem brain from MS patients and normal controls from the MS Brain Bank organised by Professor Richard Reynolds in London. We examine the brains histologically to identify chronic and remyelinated plaques and then look for expression of semaphorin and neuropilin molecules in the brains by both immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridisation. This tells us where the protein molecules are, as these are secreted molecules, and in which cells the molecules are made, by identifying the RNA message within cells. We compare this with control patients.

We will also use animal models of MS to determine the time course of expression of the molecules and to see whether the process of remyelination can be enhanced by the use of enhancers or repressors of semaphorin expression.

This work is potentially useful in the long term for the MS patient as we now know that long term disability in MS is caused by axonal loss, which may be preventable by prompt and efficient remyelination.

The Salpetriere hospital has a worldwide reputation for Neurology and has a dynamic MS research group consisting of both neurologists and scientists. In this milieu, I am sure that I will gain much experience and expertise to use in the future.

Dr Anna Williams, January 2005.