Exciting new research funding announced

16 August, 2018

In the first incubator funding round of 2018, five new grants have been awarded totalling over $112,000. These grants were awarded to the following researchers:

Dr Dan Suan from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, NSW, will use the grant to help understand the genetic causes that lead the immune system to attack itself in people with MS. Huge advances in DNA sequencing technologies have revealed that people develop far more changes to their DNA in blood cells (which includes cells of the immune system) than anyone ever predicted. These mistakes in the DNA could potentially lead to immune cells attacking the body as happens in MS. Dr Suan is leading a team who are taking advantage of the latest DNA sequencing technology to sequence the DNA of individual cells in unprecedented detail in order to identify the rouge cells which maybe attacking the body in MS. Ultimately this may allow us to understand how MS arises and how we can develop targeted therapies.

Professor Danny Eckert from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), NSW, was awarded an incubator grant to identify the causes of sleep apnoea in people with MS. This will be the first study to investigate the underlying cause of sleep apnoea in people with MS, and hopefully will lead ways in which it could be treated in people with MS. Sleep apnoea can further exacerbate fatigue, cog fog and depression in people with MS. While there are treatment options for sleep apnoea in the general population, these may not be the best treatment for people with MS as the cause of the sleep apnoea in people with MS is likely to be different. This study aims to gather critical pilot data to test the theory that sleep apnoea in MS is caused by different muscle and nerve mechanisms compared to sleep apnoea in the general population.

Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, NSW, will try and decode the signals blood cells are releasing at the different stages of relapsing-remitting MS and progressive MS. Blood cells can excrete little particles called extracellular vesicles. These particles contain small bits of genetic material called microRNAs. Professor Lechner-Scott and her team will first count the number of these particles in people with MS, and then sequence the genetic material within them, to decode what the cells are signalling. These particles and their microRNA may give us insight into how these cells are acting, and reveal new ways to treat MS. Given that these particles are in the blood they may be an easy to access indicator of MS disease activity, allowing physicians to distinguish whether the disease is progressing and take early appropriate treatment approaches.

Dr Wolfgang Marx from Deakin University, VIC, will investigate the differences in gut bacteria in people with MS. Changes in gut bacteria has been suggested to contribute to the progression of MS and enhancement of MS symptoms. However, more evidence is needed to confidently draw a link between gut bacteria and MS progression or symptoms. Dr Marx and his team will be looking at the gut bacteria of 150 people with MS who are participating in a clinical trial for a dietary supplement. The scientists will follow the gut bacteria over the course the trial and investigate the effects of treatment and diet on the gut bacteria and whether those lead to a change in MS symptoms in particular depression and fatigue.

Dr Marzena Pedrini  rom the Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science, WA, was awarded an incubator grant to determine whether there are markers in the blood which could indicate if people had experienced clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) prior to their diagnosis of MS. Dr Pedrini is investigating the level of a protein in the blood known as neurofilament light chain. This protein is normally found inside nerve cells where it acts as a skeleton for the cells, but as nerve cells die this protein is released into the spinal fluid and bloodstream and it is thought to be a measure of damage that is occurring in the brain. This study is looking to see if people with the earliest phase of MS, CIS, may have this protein at higher levels than people without MS and whether the levels change in response to treatment. This would help to identify people who could benefit from earlier treatment for their CIS and provide more therapeutic options for people prior to a diagnosis of definite MS.

The standard of application for the first round of incubator grants this year was extremely high, which reflects the high calibre of science happening in Australia. However, it is vital that our fundraising efforts continue to ensure that more research can be carried out so we can get to the bottom of MS.

More information about these grants and other research currently funded by MS Research Australia can be found here.

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