Dr David Lyons studies the function and repair of myelinated axons

Disruption to myelin contributes to the symptoms of numerous devastating conditions of the nervous system, including the demyelinating disease multiple sclerosis, MS. Myelin is a plasma membrane extension of specialised glial cells that wraps around the axons of our nervous system in order to allow rapid conduction of neural impulses and to provide metabolic and trophic support to those axons. Although our nervous system has some ability to repair damaged myelin, this process (called remyelination) eventual fails, and this causes the axonal and neuronal degeneration associated with currently untreatable stages of MS. We currently have a relatively limited understanding of the molecular and cellular interactions between axons and glial cells that specifically regulate myelination, which limits our ability to provide interventions to aid myelin repair. The Lyons lab uses zebrafish as a model to study myelination. The small size, optical transparency, relative simplicity, and rapid development of zebrafish embryos are properties that allow direct observation of biological events as they occur in live animals. The Lyons lab have developed a non-invasive method to ablate myelinating glial cells and a suite of tools to visualise myelin and myelinated axons at high-resolution in live zebrafish.  They also carrying out genetic screens to identify new genes required for myelination. Zebrafish embryos are small, aquatic, and available in very large numbers, which means that large-scale in vivo drug discovery screens can also be carried out in a cost-effective manner, that is not possible using other animal models. This means that the effect of thousands of potential drug like compounds can be tested on whole animals at a very early stage of the drug development process. Importantly, zebrafish exhibit well-conserved responses to drugs approved for use in man, and new clinical trials based on work carried out in zebrafish are already in progress. The Lyons lab hopes to identify compounds that can enhance the repair of myelinated axons in zebrafish, from which new therapies for humans can be developed.

I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded a Research Prize from the Lister Institute. In addition to the obvious advantages that come with essentially “no strings attached” funding, being incorporated into the outstanding Lister research community who meet annually at a scientific meeting of the highest quality is a truly special privilege. I would encourage any investigator who is eligible to apply for this fantastic opportunity.