The physician researchers at Harper University Hospital and Wayne State University are active in clinical research (how to diagnose and treat the disease) and basic research (understanding how the disease occurs). At the MS Center at Harper, patients can participate in clinical trials of new treatments for MS as well as basic research into this chronic illness.
Clinical research at the MS Clinic includes the development of new drug therapies, new imaging techniques and the study of genetics in MS.
- Drug therapies – The Wayne State University MS Clinic at Harper University Hospital is an international leader in the development of new drugs to treat multiple sclerosis. Harper University Hospital played a significant role in the development of drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of MS. Currently, several different drugs to treat the disease and its symptoms are under investigation at the MS Clinic.
- Imaging – Accurate brain and spinal cord imaging can play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of MS. The physicians at Harper are developing new imaging techniques to identify the disease in its early stages. At Harper, two MRIs are used exclusively for MS research, including a high–resolution, 4 Tesla machine. Fewer than a dozen hospitals in the nation have access to this type of high–resolution MRI equipment.
- Genetics – Researchers at Harper and Wayne State University are investigating the role of genetics in the development of MS. While a specific genetic link has not been identified, researchers believe that 10 to 15 percent of MS cases run in families. Researchers are also investigating the role of genetics in the African American population with MS. While MS is usually much more common in the Caucasian population, African Americans in Detroit develop MS at about the same rate as Caucasians. Researchers believe the mixing of genetic material (through interracial marriages) is the one possible explanation of this observation, although not the only one.
In basic research, scientists try to understand the fundamental processes that cause a disease. The MS Clinic at Harper is one of the few laboratories in the country investigating the role of the "blood–brain barrier" in the development of MS. A dedicated lab headed by basic researcher Dr. Paula Dore–Duffy is studying the interaction between the immune system cells and the blood–brain barrier. This barrier serves as an autoimmune and protective filter – protecting the brain and the body's nervous system from harmful substances and cells and also allowing the passage of immune system cells necessary for the function of the nervous system. But, in patients with MS, this barrier appears to be disturbed. Dr. Joyce Benjamins is studying the mechanisms of myelin damage and how myelin-forming cells in the central nervous system survive under different pathologic conditions, including MS. In addition to Drs. Dore-Duffy and Benjamins, Dr. Samia Ragheb is studying immune system abnormalities in MS. Her areas of interest include regulating mechanisms that affect inflammation in the brain.