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January 2006 Issue

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New Waddell Center Director Translates Basic MS Research into Patient Care

Published January 2006

Bibiana Bielekova, MD, the newly named director of UC's Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), is working to bring the latest research findings about MS from the lab to the bedside.

"We're committed to providing patients with state-of-the-art care services and access to groundbreaking clinical trials, while pursuing research into the fundamental processes of how MS begins and evolves," she says.

MS is an auto-immune disease that occurs when the body's own natural defense system starts attacking the myelin sheath (outer lining) of nerves and neurons. The cause is unknown, but one theory is that it may it be triggered by exposure to a viral infection or environmental influences.

The disease takes different courses in different people and can go into remission for many years, recur occasionally, or progress quickly into degeneration of all motor functions that control muscles, strength, vision and balance. The very progressive form of the disease can end in death.

Physicians use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves to pinpoint the exact locations of lesions, plaques or damaged nerves and to measure progression of the disease.

"It's now becoming clear that MS patients respond differently to different therapies," says Dr. Bielekova. "We're trying to discover what causes brain tissue destruction to occur by comparing MRI images of the brain with immunological data obtained from the blood or cerebrospinal fluid of MS patients."

Dr. Bielekova previously had served as a staff clinician at the Stroke's Neuroimmunology Branch (NIB) of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. She earned her medical degree from Comenius University, Slovakia, completed her internship at the State University of New York, Brooklyn, and finished her neurology residency at Boston University.

Dr. Bielekova funded her postdoctoral clinical/research training with a fellowship award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which she completed at the NIB in 2000.

Her research interests include the development of new MS treatments and understanding how they function, as well as MS disease "heterogeneity," or the different mechanisms that underlie the development and progression of MS.

Dr. Bielekova has written numerous peer-reviewed publications and book chapters and serves as a reviewer for several neurology and neuroimmunology journals. She has been an investigator for many National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trials and is the inventor or co-inventor on three NIH patents related to MS therapies. She also reviews grants for several funding agencies.

The Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis, the region's first fully comprehensive MS center, was initiated by a $5 million gift from Oliver and Virgilee Waddell to bring world-class MS neurologists and laboratory scientists to Cincinnati.

An associate professor of neurology, Dr. Bielekova will also serve on the faculty of The Neuroscience Institute, a collaborative effort of nine academic departments at UC's College of Medicine, University Hospital and independent physician practice groups. The institute is dedicated to patient care, research, education and the development of new medical technologies.

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