Greek Scientist Wins Barancik Prize for MS Research

Dr. Katerina Akassoglou, University of California at San Francisco

A Greek scientist who is a leading researcher at the Gladstone Institutes and the Department of Neurology at the University of California has won the 2018 Barancik Prize for Innovation in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Research.

Dr. Katerina Akassoglou will receive her award and deliver the prize lecture at the ACTRIMS Forum, to be held in February in Dallas, Texas.

The Greek scientist holds a doctorate in neuroimmunology from the University of Athens, Greece. She also trained in neuropathology at the University of Vienna and did postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University and New York University.

Dr. Akassoglou received the award due to her extensive research, leading several studies focusing on a blood-clotting protein called fibrin which “leaks” and causes nerve damage by  depositing in MS brain lesions.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society explained on their website that Dr. Akassoglou’s team “showed that fibrin deposits hinder natural nervous system repair and can activate immune cells in the brain known as microglia. This triggers inflammation and nerve damage.

“Using an antibody that inhibits fibrin, her team has been able to decrease the activation of microglia, and reduce subsequent damage to nerve fibers in mice” according to the MS Society.

The Barancik Prize promotes continued research for MS and recognizes scientific leaders who pave the way for the future, making strides to potentially treat and cure the disease which affects over 2.3 million people worldwide.

The international prize is made possible by the generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, and is administered through the National MS Society.

This is not Dr. Akassoglou’s first recognition in her field, having already received many awards including the 2007 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She also won the John J. Abel Award in Pharmacology, a EUREKA R01 prize, and the NINDS R35 Research Program Award.

Dr. Akassoglou issued a statement after her prize notification which was published on the nationalmssociety.org website. She noted that she was “deeply honored to win the Barancik Prize and truly grateful to the committee for recognizing the innovation and translational potential of our work.”

“Translating findings into treatments is a cornerstone of our research program, and we are committed to developing new therapies for MS,” she added.

Dr. Bruce Bebo, Executive Vice President of the National MS Society, which administers the Prize, said “While others dismissed the idea that blood factors could be involved in the nervous system damage in MS, Dr. Akassoglou saw this as an important clue and has relentlessly pursued the idea.”

He added that she is “now using this knowledge to translate her discoveries into possible therapies for MS. Her tireless pursuit of a fundamental question in MS and the tenacity to translate this knowledge into potential therapies is why she is being recognized with this year’s Barancik Prize.”

Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disease which often involves disruptions in the blood flow to the brain. Females represent a majority of MS cases, with statistics putting their numbers at 2-3 times higher than men. The majority of people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 50.