Hayes believes that the calcitriol may cause the autoimmune cells attacking the nerve cells' myelin coating to die, while the vitamin D prevents new autoimmune cells from taking their place.
While she is excited about the prospect of her research helping MS patients someday, Hayes is quick to point out that it's based on a mouse model of disease, not the real thing. Also, while rodents are genetically homogeneous, people are genetically diverse.
"So it's not certain we'll be able to translate (this discovery to humans)," says Hayes. "But I think the chances are good because we have such a broad foundation of data showing protective effects of vitamin D in humans."
The next step is human clinical trials, a step that must be taken by a medical doctor, a neurologist. If the treatment works in people, patients with early symptoms of MS may never need to receive an official diagnosis.
"It's my hope that one day doctors will be able to say, 'We're going to give you an oral calcitriol dose and ramp up the vitamin D in your diet, and then we're going to follow you closely over the next few months. You're just going to have this one neurological episode and that will be the end of it,'" says Hayes. "That's my dream."
|Contact: Colleen Hayes|
University of Wisconsin-Madison