Nancy Monson, Ph.D.
Class of 1991
Departments of Immunology and Neurology & Neurotherapeutics
UT Southwestern Medical Center
For the last half-century, patients with early symptoms of multiple sclerosis had to wait months or years to get an accurate diagnosis. Now, the FDA may approve a quicker and more accurate diagnostic tool — one designed by Nancy Monson ’91 and her colleagues.
As an immunologist, Nancy studies the body’s immune system and the antibodies it uses to detect and defend against threats. Those antibodies are what keep healthy people healthy — creating immunity after a vaccination, for example. However, in patients with MS, the body’s immune system also produces antibodies that target the brain. Those antibodies’ attacks eventually cause permanent nerve damage. But until now, no one has known which antibodies were responsible for those attacks.
In 2009, after several years of laboratory research, Nancy’s team identified those antibodies. Since then, they developed a process to see whether those harmful antibodies are present in a patient’s in spinal fluid. The tool, known as “MS Precise,” is more than 90 percent accurate and has already passed the midpoint of the FDA’s clinical trial process.
Nancy is quick to note that her team has been a crucial part of this work.
“The work that we do really requires these massive interdisciplinary teams — teams with physicians, basic scientists, nurses, all sorts of professions,” she says. “I learned that type of interdisciplinary teamwork when I was in college, and it’s a crucial skill set.”
She also credits the University’s culture with helping her devote her life to this kind of patient-focused research.
“At Valpo, compassion for humans, for fellow human beings, was emphasized and cherished,” she says. “I came to Valpo wanting to be a scientist, but I went into clinical immunology because of Valpo. It shaped me to become a scientist who could help humans.”