Published September 21, 2020
Searching for a Cure
A scientist and her team study methods to encourage production of myelin in MS patients.
Teresa Wood, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Neuroscience at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, researches the biological mechanisms that underlie multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. Although the cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, scientists believe that a combination of environmental and genetic factors contribute to its development.
Wood and her colleagues are studying methods to encourage cells to produce and protect myelin, a substance that helps transmit the electrical signals that convey information among nerve cells and from nerve cells to muscles. In addition to her work on myelin, Wood has investigated the roles of extracellular and intracellular signals that regulate normal brain and breast tissue development to understand cellular pathways involved in various brain disorders, including multiple sclerosis, and the dysregulated growth of cells in breast cancer.
Wood’s findings have garnered funding from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and the National MS Society.
Wood holds a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, and she did postdoctoral studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Columbia University. She recently was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Rena Warshow Endowed Chair in Multiple Sclerosis was established with proceeds from the Musical Moments for MS concerts. The event was organized by philanthropist Lee Kushner, who named the chair in honor of her mother, Rena Warshow.
In the Professor’s Own Words
Why did you choose to focus on MS?
I have had a long interest in understanding how cells in the developing brain respond to cues that tell them to divide, survive, or become a fully mature functioning cell type. These processes also are important for understanding how to promote brain repair in disease or after injury. One of the cell types present in the brain and spinal cord that I became interested in early on in my career was the oligodendrocyte that produces the myelin wrapping of axons. Myelin is necessary for neurons to function correctly and is destroyed in the immune attacks that occur in multiple sclerosis.
What aspect of your work is most personally fulfilling?
The most fulfilling aspects of my work are in uncovering the unexpected as part of our research and in training future scientists. Imparting the joy of discovery and the ability to think about and question results to Ph.D. students and postdocs is very rewarding. The most exciting moments are those when my mentees realize they are capable of more than they realized!
What values do you try to instill in the students you work with?
It is important to me that students learn how to think critically, design the correct experiments to answer a question, and appreciate their journey, wherever it takes them!
What about your work do you find most challenging?
It is challenging but can also be rewarding to communicate important research findings to people outside the scientific community so they understand that progress is being made even if it seems slow at times. It is critical for continued health and progress that our society values and understands the benefits of careful and rigorous science.
This story is part of Rutgers University Foundation’s Endowed Chairs Impact series. Supporting professorships and research helps spark innovation and creativity here in New Jersey and beyond.