Nineteen new projects, ranging from one year innovative studies to major three year projects, have received grant funding from MS Research Australia. The new grants also include fellowships, scholarships and travel grants that help to support and grow the Australian MS research workforce, as well as to promote global collaborations to stop and reverse MS.
The funding covers a range of different MS research priorities, including causes and prevention, better treatments and cures via repair and regeneration of cells. The grants focus on a variety of areas within these themes such as vitamin D, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), gut health, fatigue and depression, through to cell therapy and myelin repair. MS is a very complex disease making it necessary to address all of these areas to help gain a full understanding of this disease and to come up with the best ways to combat it. As always, these grants were selected following a rigorous external expert review of applications which is overseen by our Research Management Council . This process ensures that projects and researchers funded are of the highest quality and have the greatest potential to make a difference for people living with MS. Unfortunately due to limited resources, not every high quality project could be funded, and we continue to strive to find ways to extend the funding envelope each year.
One of the studies looking into causes and prevention of MS is Professor Sanjay Swaminathan from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research NSW. Professor Swaminathan has recently found evidence that many genes associated with MS are also involved in the body’s ability to fight off an EBV infection. EBV infection has for a long time been linked to the development of MS, and this might go some way to explain that link. Discovering how EBV interacts with these genes may reveal how we can block an EBV infection, which in turn may have an impact on MS.
Many projects and fellowships that have been funded will be investigating better treatments for people with MS. Dr Wei Yeh from Alfred Health and Monash University VIC will be focusing on the effects of vitamin D on immune cells to better understand it as a treatment option. Both Professor Gabrielle Belz from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research VIC and Associate Professor Laurence Macia from the University of Sydney NSW will be studying how gut health can affect the immune system. Dr Jennifer Massey from St Vincent’s Hospital NSW aims to shed light on how autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) restores a functional immune system. She will be focusing on the balance of white blood cells and how organs produce new white blood cells that may “reboot” the immune system following AHSCT.
Several studies will be focusing on slowing MS progression, one of the greatest areas of unmet needs – this will hopefully pave the way towards halting progression completely. Among these are Associate Professor Michael Buckland from the University of Sydney NSW and Dr Vivien Li from The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health VIC.
Associate Professor Buckland is focusing on the process of repair and regeneration of myelin in MS. He will investigate how previously damaged myelin is removed, which may be impaired in people with MS. This incubator grant is supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation.
Dr Li was awarded a postgraduate scholarship, in conjunction with the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Trish MS Research Foundation to enable her to complete a PhD. Her research will investigate ways to reduce abnormal immune system activation seen in MS, looking at a particular signalling molecule in the body which might help stop the immune system from attacking the body’s own myelin. During her PhD, Dr Li will also look at the effects of a particular genetic mutation and its role in disease progression. It is hoped this work will increase our understanding of progressive MS and will lead to new treatment options for those with progressive MS.
We are extremely grateful to the MS community, our donors and funding partners, including the Trish MS Research Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council, for making it possible to fund these amazing researchers as they work towards stopping and reversing MS.
This is just a brief overview of some of the new research projects funded in 2020. View a snapshot of these projects here.
The full details of these and the other projects we are funding in 2020 can be found here.