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Associate Professor of Neurology
School of Medicine
Voskuhl credits her skyrocketing ascent to the head of those searching
for a successful cure to multiple sclerosis to a mixture of luck,
timing, mentors and colleagues. But those at the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society chalk it up to something else: Voskuhl's brilliant
O'Looney, director of biomedical research programs for the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the 38-year-old Oklahoma native
combines a "wonderful knowledge of neurology and immunology"
with a researcher's sense of innovation and a clinician's enthusiasm
innovation led to the MS Society's most prestigious award in 1997,
the Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholarship, given to the most promising
young scientist in the field as a result of her research into gender-based
differences in autoimmune diseases.
significance of gender differences in diseases such as MS, rheumatoid
arthritis and lupus, which affect women three times more frequently
than men and often improve during late pregnancy, was long-known
but mostly overlooked. Voskuhl, a graduate of Vanderbilt University
School of Medicine and former senior investigator at the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, suspected that the
sex and pregnancy clues "must be a hint into how these diseases
zeroed in on two hormones produced in abundance during late pregnancy,
progesterone and estriol. Mice developed as models for human autoimmune
conditions were exposed to the hormones at blood levels close to
what would be circulating during the third trimester.
didn't do much," she reports. "But there was a huge disease
amelioration when we gave them estriol."
hormone seems to rein in peripheral blood cells that produce inflammatory
reactions. So convincing were her results that the Food and Drug
Administration gave her a green light for a six-month pilot study
of estriol in women with MS.
usual, Voskuhl downplays her achievement: "We got there earlier
than the others did," she notes. "I was fortunate."