SLU Research: Nanoparticles May Alleviate Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

A team of scientists that includes St. Lawrence University biology and psychology professors as well as a several recent graduates have discovered that a particular type of nanoparticle may help alleviate symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.  Their findings were recently published in a leading scientific journal.

Karin Heckman, assistant professor of biology, and William E. DeCoteau, associate professor of psychology, were the lead authors on a research paper that examined cerium oxide nanoparticles and their ability to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The article, titled “Custom Cerium Oxide Nanoparticles Protect Against a Free Radical Mediated Autoimmune Degenerative Disease in the Brain,” was published this month in ACS Nano, a publication of the American Chemical Society. Ana Y. Estevez, associate professor of biology and psychology, and Joseph S. Erlichman, professor and R. Sheldon ’68 and Virginia H. Johnson Chair of Science and co-chair of the Department of Biology, were also listed as authors in the publication.

According to the study, cerium oxide nanoparticles are both widely used as catalysts in industrial applications and are considered potent antioxidants due to their free radical-scavenging properties.

Heckman, DeCoteau and the other authors say in the article that laboratory experiments indicate the particular set of particles located in research at St. Lawrence University have the potential to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease, while not causing damage to the liver and spleen of mice.

“St. Lawrence has a unique set of cerium oxide particles,” said Heckman, who specializes in infections and autoimmune diseases. “These particles move into the brain to help to provide therapy. Yet, these particles also diminish over time.”

Heckman also recently attended the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization conference earlier this month in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she delivered a presentation, titled “Differences in the Neuroprotective Effects of Nanoceria in a Murine Model of Multiple Sclerosis,” and tested St. Lawrence’s particle research against other commercially available products. The presentation mirrored the recently published paper. Heckman was joined at the conference by Associate Professor of Chemistry Matthew C. Skeels, DeCoteau and Erlichman.

Heckman said ultimately the development of a pharmaceutical drug is the goal.

“The question we’re asking now is how can these particles be used therapeutically if they’re packaged in the correct chemical form,” she said. “It can take up to 10 years for a drug to be fully developed, from the initial research to FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approval. But, yes, that’s the goal.”

ACS Nano is a highly ranked academic journal for the sciences with a high impact factor. The impact factor is a measure that reflects the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal. 

The research team also included several recent St. Lawrence graduates, including Jennifer Clauss ’13, Kylie Knapp ’13, Carlos Gomez ’13, Patrick Mullen ’13, Elle Rathbun ’12, Kelly Prime ’12, Jessica Marini ’13 and Jamie Patchefsky ’12.

Heckman said the former St. Lawrence students were instrumental in the study, monitoring experiments twice a day and conducting a series of motor tests on the laboratory mice.

The ACS Nano article can be found here. (A subscription may be required to view off of the St. Lawrence University campus.)