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Mayo Clinic doctor wins award for MS research

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Dr. Claudia Lucchinetti, chair of the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic, has won the 2016 John Dystel Prize for her research on MS.
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A Mayo Clinic doctor will be honored this week in Canada for her groundbreaking research on multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Claudia Lucchinetti will be given the 2016 John Dystel Prize for MS Research Tuesday at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Vancouver. She'll be given $15,000 for the award, the second time a Mayo doctor has been honored by the group since its inception in 1995.

Lucchinetti's MS research is widely credited with creating "paradigm shifts in our understanding of central nervous system demyelinating diseases over the past two decades," according to Mayo's press release. She's currently the chair of the Department of Neurology on the Rochester campus, while also serving as the chairwoman of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professor of Neurosciences.

"As someone who has worked side-by-side with Dr. Lucchinetti, I can say first-hand that she is a thought leader sought out by colleagues around the world," said Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, who is also a neurologist with expertise in MS. "Her expertise not only advances our understanding of the disease, but also moves the field forward to the benefit of patients at Mayo Clinic and people everywhere."

Her research has focused on demyelination, or damage to the protective covering that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. She's since collected the largest tissue bank of MS lesions "in her quest to find effective treatments for this unpredictable and often disabling disease," according to Mayo.

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Her work led to MS being identified as a disease with "fundamentally different targets and mechanisms of tissue damage in different patients" — meaning personalized medicine approaches could be the most effective form of treatment.

Those realizations prompted her landmark study in 2000, which set the stage for the launch of the MS Lesion Project, an international collaborative study that's funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Institutes of Health .

The ongoing research was vital in recognizing that neuromyelitis optica is a separate disease from MS, requiring different medical treatment based on its status as an autoimmune disorder where antibodies target proteins located around blood vessels.

"I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to have been selected for this award," Dr. Lucchinetti said. "I am thankful for the opportunity to work with a diverse group of investigators here at Mayo Clinic, all very passionate about wanting to make a difference in the lives of our patients."

As Dr. Lucchinetti prepares to add another award to her collection, her thoughts have drifted back to what spurred her initial interest in MS decades ago.

While working in a Mayo Clinic research lab as a college student, she encountered a young mother who died due to a "very rare and aggressive" form of the disease. Her work has been dedicated almost exclusively to MS since that day.

"At that moment, I decided that I would devote my career to trying to make a difference in the lives of MS patients," Dr. Lucchinetti said.

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