Dr. Michael C. Levin

Professor, University of Saskatchewan

Photo of Dr. Levin

Michael C. Levin, MD, is the inaugural Saskatchewan Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Research Chair and Professor of Neurology and Anatomy, Physiology & Pharmacology at the University of Saskatchewan. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with special honors at George Washington University, his medical degree at Pennsylvania State University and basic neuroscience training at The Salk Institute with Drs. Max Cowan and Paul Sawchenko. Dr. Levin completed his residency training in Neurology at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where Drs. Fred Plum and Jerry Posner mentored him, including while he was chief neurology resident. He then completed his Multiple Sclerosis (MS) post-doctoral fellowship in the Neuroimmunology Branch at the National Institutes of Health with Drs. Henry McFarland and Steve Jacobson.

He was recruited to the University of Tennessee in Memphis where he moved up the ranks to professor with tenure, was Chief of the Neurology Service at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center and led the MS clinic. Here he developed a translational research program based on the role that dysfunctional RNA binding proteins play in the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration in MS and relevant MS models. His work has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Communications, Nature Medicine, Glia, Annals of Neurology, Neurology, the Journal of Comparative Neurology, and the Journal of Neuroscience Research. Dr. Levin has received more than 30 awards for academic excellence and his work has been recognized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Academy of Neurology, and the Society for Neuroscience.

At the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Levin’s team discovered that an RNA binding protein named heterogeneous nuclear ribonuclear protein A1 (‘A1’ for short), is abnormal in nerve cells of people with MS. Abnormal A1 causes nerve cell death resulting in permanent disability. Using innovative drug design, Dr. Levin’s team identified multiple drugs that normalized A1 in nerve cells, which not only stopped nerve cells from dying, but also promoted their regeneration! These new drugs, which are being patented and prepared for clinical trials, are designed to prevent disability and improve the lives of persons living with MS.

Dr. Levin is married to his lovely wife of more than 30 years, Dr. Audrey Zucker-Levin, an academic physical therapist. He has two strappingly handsome sons and is an avid sailor and scuba diver.

Learn more about Dr. Levin

What is the focus of your research? How did you become interested in MS research?

The focus of my research is neurodegeneration – the death and damage of nerve cells and their
branches, called nerve fibres or axons. This is important because neurodegeneration is why persons living with MS get worse (known as ‘disease progression’) and develop permanent disability.

My interest in MS comes from two sources: my basic science training in neuroscience and the inspiration I derived from meeting persons living with MS during my neurology training at New York Hospital in New York City.

What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?

The bottom line is many persons living with MS continue to get worse, which I find unacceptable.
Considering that hundreds of scientific papers indicate that the underlying cause of MS worsening is
neurodegeneration, I am inspired to figure out how neurodegeneration occurs and design new
medications to inhibit it.

How do you hope to change the lives of people living with MS through your research?

My goal is to design novel medications that inhibit neurodegeneration, reduce disease progression, and
stop MS in its tracks!

What do you enjoy most about your research? What are some of the challenges you face?

What I enjoy most about research is discovering something new. In our lab, we’ve discovered something
new and very important to MS, that a protein called A1 in nerve cells is abnormal. In fact, A1 gets stuck
in the wrong part of a nerve cell called the cytoplasm. We’ve designed drugs that release A1 from the
cytoplasm so that A1 can go back home to the nucleus of the nerve cell, where it belongs. When this
happens, instead of nerve cells dying from neurodegeneration, they start to regenerate.

How important is the support from MS Canada in your research?

Our team is at a crucial junction in our research and the funding provided by MS Canada is paramount to
us discovering new medications that inhibit neurodegeneration, reduce disability, and stop MS in its

For more information on my team’s work, please see my TEDx talk at this link: Dr. Levin’s TEDx Talk: STOP MS IN ITS TRACKS!