New Research Center at Ohio State to Study Neuroinflammation

With increasing evidence pointing to links between inflammation and neurological diseases, Ohio State is establishing a Neuroinflammation Research Center to discover new therapies.

The newly appointed chair of Ohio State’s Neurology Department, Benjamin Segal, MD, brings his work in neuroimmunology and multiple sclerosis (MS) from the University of Michigan to The Ohio State University. Dr. Segal’s lab studies how abnormal inflammation causes damage to the optic nerves, brain and spinal cord in individuals with MS and related disorders. This work has led to important insights about the types of immune cells and factors that drive MS pathology, and may ultimately lead to more personalized approaches to the treatment of MS in the future. In addition, Dr. Segal and his colleagues have recently embarked on a new line of research to investigate how alternative forms of inflammation can actually drive the regeneration of damaged nerve fibers and promote healing.

“The destructive power of inflammation is most obvious in diseases in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system aberrantly,” Dr. Segal says. “MS is a prime example.  However, there’s accumulating data that inflammation also plays a critical role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in stroke and in traumatic brain and spinal cord injury.” 

The Neuroinflammation Research Center will build on the existing strengths of Ohio State’s world-renowned experts who have established relationships between inflammation and spinal cord injury, such as Phil Popovich, PhD and Dana McTigue, PhD in the Department of Neuroscience and Jan Schwab, MD, PhD in the Department of Neurology. In addition, investigators from Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research have demonstrated correlations among stress, inflammation and nerve damage.

“We have a strong foundation here, and we’re adding to it,” says Dr. Segal, who is also director of Ohio State’s Neuroscience Research Institute.

New Research Uncovers Possibilities for Nerve Fiber Regrowth

Through ongoing research funded by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Segal is using animal models to investigate how the immune system could protect and even stimulate damaged nerve fibers to regenerate.

“We’re about to publish work in which we’ve identified an immune pathway that directly induces damaged nerves to grow new nerve fibers,” he says.

The Neuroinflammation Research Center is recruiting new scientists and clinicians to join current researchers who are focused on both the destructive and beneficial aspects of neuroinflammation.    

“We’ll have a unique, multifaceted research portfolio that deals with interactions between the nervous system and immune system,” Dr. Segal says. “We’ll focus, on one hand, on how to dampen destructive neuroinflammation and, on the other hand, to enhance the beneficial arm of immune response that can reverse the process and lead to recovery of deficits and repair the damage.” Future research will be focused on developing new treatments for MS, stroke and brain and spinal cord damage, based on these novel findings.

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