Sabrina Cote, PhD, has joined the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) as a postdoctoral research fellow working for Simon Gregory, PhD, director of the DHMRI genomics laboratory. She will be researching Multiple Sclerosis (MS) under Gregory’s direction.
Gregory, who is also an associate professor in the section of Medical Genetics, Department of Medicine at Duke University and a renowned MS researcher, notes that hiring Cote to study MS is a first step toward establishing disease-focused research at DHMRI.
Cote comes to the DHMRI from Duke University where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow studying genome instability and DNA recombination and repair, specifically as it relates to cancer. Originally from Vancouver, Washington, Cote completed her undergraduate work at the University of Washington in Seattle. Following in her father’s footsteps, she attended graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill where she studied genetics and molecular biology.
Advancing MS Research
MS is a disease caused by the deterioration of the myelin sheath around the nerves that leads to the interruption of the flow of electrical impulses between the brain and the rest of the body. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2.3 million people worldwide have the disease, 400,000 of whom are in the United States.
In 2007, Gregory published findings identifying the first gene in 20 years associated with the neurological disease. “Ever since then, I’ve been carrying out either research on newly collected samples, as we’re doing with the MURDOCK Study MS cohort, to identify biomarkers of MS development or characterizing the gene we found in 2007 to establish why and how it is important to MS,” he said.
The MURDOCK MS cohort is a research study funded in 2010 by a $1 million donation from Charlotte businessman Herman Stone, whose children suffer from MS. The money underwrote an MS study conducted by the Duke University-led and NC Research Campus-based MURDOCK Study.
So far over half the target of 1000 patients have been recruited for the MS Study, providing enough biological samples to begin identifying new biomarkers. Gregory and Cote are looking for biomarkers that are in the blood and may be genetic, produced by metabolites or based in proteins. Each biomarker they find may provide a clue as to who is susceptible to developing MS and how the disease progresses.
“Sabrina has a couple of rich data sets to start looking at markers that may be associated with the chronic pathology of MS, the underlying biology,” Gregory said.
Since relapsing and remitting MS is a common course of the disease, Gregory wants to find additional biomarkers that can indicate when MS patients might go into remission or relapse with worsening symptoms. Gregory also plans to have Cote examine gene sequence data to look at gene expression in the spinal fluid of MS patients.
Right Environment for MS Research
During the eight years following Gregory’s genetic discovery, over 150 genes have been associated with the disease. “We still don’t know how these genes make someone susceptible to MS.” He said. “By establishing a dedicated MS research group at the DHMRI, we can take advantage of the tremendous infrastructure not only of the MURDOCK MS Study that is recruiting patients but also of the breadth of capabilities at the DHMRI. It is a tremendous environment to carry out research.”
Gregory plans to use numerous scientific platforms to integrate MS samples from our study and try to identify the pathways associated with the development and progression of the disease.
The DHMRI provides advanced and comprehensive laboratory services to partners on the NC Research Campus as well as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, academic and government researchers located throughout the world. In addition to its service arm, the DHMRI is developing independent research programs that fully use the institute’s comprehensive capabilities.
With the addition of Cote, Gregory is confident that MS research can progress more quickly. “Sabrina is my go-to person, and the person that I’d like to build the MS research team around,” he said. “She represents an exciting new phase of dedicated disease research at the DHMRI.”
For more information about the scientific platforms being used to advance MS research, learn about DHMRI’s Biomarker Identification capabilities and the services available in the Genomics and Metabolomics laboratories.