Advisory Board

Professor Alastair Compston

The PhysOrg article New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers said

A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).
The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, has found that alemtuzumab not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) but may also restore lost function caused by the disease. The findings were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Alemtuzumab is the most promising experimental drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, and we are hopeful that the Phase 3 trials will confirm that it can both stabilize and allow some recovery of what had previously been assumed to be irreversible disabilities,” says the principal investigator Alastair Compston, Professor of Neurology and the Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which is caused by the body’s immune system attacking nerve fibres and their protective insulation, the myelin sheath, in the central nervous system. This damage prevents the nerves from “firing” properly, and then leads to their destruction, resulting in physical and intellectual disabilities. Alemtuzumab works by destroying one population of white blood cell (lymphocytes) and, by shutting down the immune system, inhibits the damage to brain tissue that occurs in MS.

Alastair Compston, MBBS, Ph.D., FRCP, FRSA, FMedSci, FIBiol is Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on the clinical science of human demyelinating disease. With others, he writes the most prestigious and highly regarded textbook on MS, McAlpine’s Multiple Sclerosis.
Outside Cambridge, he contributes to the administration of academic neurology. He has received the Sobek International Research Prize (2002) and the Charcot Award (2007). He is a former president of the European Neurological Society (2001–2), president-elect of the Association of British Neurologists (from 2009) and Editor of Brain (from 2004).
Alastair’s research interests focus on clinical and experimental demyelinating disease with an emphasis on multiple sclerosis — the commonest potentially disabling disease of young adults. His research group has a broad set of interests: they work on the aetiology with international collaborations in genetics involving large-scale whole genome screens for factors that confer susceptibility and influence disease progression; in neurobiology, they study interactions between glia and axons, and the potential role of human stem cells as “medicines” for limiting and the repairing the damage; their work in therapeutic immunology has used the monoclonal antibody Campath-1H (Alemtuzimab) both to treat patients and to understand mechanisms of tissue injury that determine the clinical course of the disease.
Alastair coedited Brain Disease: therapeutic strategies and repair, and coauthored Multiple sclerosis, A whole genome screen for linkage disequilibrium in multiple sclerosis confirms disease associations with regions previously linked to susceptibility, Efficient generation of neural precursors from adult human skin: astrocytes promote neurogenesis from skin-derived stem cells, Oligodendrocytes Promote Neuronal Survival and Axonal Length by Distinct Intracellular Mechanisms: A Novel Role for Oligodendrocyte-Derived Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, A Role for Oligodendrocyte-Derived IGF-1 in Trophic Support of Cortical Neurons, and Suggestive Evidence for Association of Human Chromosome 18q12-q21 and Its Orthologue on Rat and Mouse Chromosome 18 With Several Autoimmune Diseases.
Alastair earned his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1979 for work on the immunogenetics of MS and his subsequent research has focused on human and experimental demyelinating disease with an emphasis on genetic epidemiology, applied neurobiology, therapeutic immunology, and clinical neuroscience.
Watch Frontiers 2007 – Professor Alastair Compston – Origins of MS.