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Cross honored for multiple sclerosis research

Recognized for role in discovering destructive effects of immune B cells in MS

July 8, 2019

Anne H. Cross, MD, the Manny and Rosalyn Rosenthal and Dr. John L. Trotter MS Center Chair in Neuroimmunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received the John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Academy of Neurology. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to research in the understanding, treatment or prevention of multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS attacks the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves of MS patients, causing pain, fatigue, vision and coordination difficulties. Cross transformed the field of MS research when, by studying an animal model of MS, she discovered that immune cells known as B cells play a critical role. The findings, which led her to study B cells in people with MS, were a direct challenge to the accepted dogma of the time, which held that MS was caused by a different immune cell type, the T cell. Cross later led the first clinical trial of rituximab, a B cell-depleting therapy for MS, which showed an 88 percent reduction in new MS lesions. While rituximab was never approved to treat MS, it helped pave the way for a related compound, ocrelizumab, which was approved as a therapy for MS by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

Cross also pioneered new imaging techniques to track and measure nerve damage in MS patients, and has explored the potential benefits of calorie restriction for reducing signs and symptoms of MS.

Cross is co-director of the Center for Neuroimmunology & Neuroinfectious Diseases and co-director of the John L. Trotter MS Center, as well as head of the Neuroimmunology Section in the Department of Neurology.