$150,000 awarded to ‘outside the box’ research ideas

13 December, 2019
  • MS Research Australia has funded six new MS studies totalling almost $150,000 in the first round of incubator grants for 2019/20.
  • These grants support novel and outside the box ideas, enabling the generation of preliminary data to prove new concepts.
  • Researchers often use the findings from their incubator funded projects to apply for larger grants in the future.
  • The newly funded studies are looking at ways to improve quality of life for people with MS, including new treatment options.

MS Research Australia has funded six new MS studies totalling almost $150,000 in the first round of incubator grants for 2019/20.

MS Research Australia is delighted to announce the outcome of the first incubator funding round of 2019/20 – six new grants have been awarded totalling to almost $150,000. Incubator grants provide seed funding for the early stages of innovative new research, with the aim of generating preliminary data needed to support future grant applications from a range of funding sources. Historically, for every dollar invested in this funding scheme, the scientists have managed to secure an additional 27 dollars in additional funding, really accelerating their areas of research.

The successful studies are:

Professor Julie Henry from the University of Queensland, QLD will use the grant to determine the best way to measure changes in social cognition, which can predict longer term quality of life in people with MS. Social cognition is the ability to process social information, such as recognising facial emotions, and impairment of this can be evident in the early stages of MS. Professor Henry will compare conventional tests with more true to life social cognitive tests and look at how well these tests predict real world outcomes. The study aims to advance the understanding, treatment and management of MS.

Dr Diana Dorstyn from the University of Adelaide, SA will develop and test an online information and discussion forum, MSJobSeek. People with MS can experience significant challenges in finding and maintaining employment, but peers who share their experience of living and working with MS can promote self-management, empowerment, and help other people with MS move into work. The forum will be led by employed peers with MS and overseen by a health psychologist. The study will determine whether MSJobSeek is an effective tool in supporting people with MS and enhancing their employment.

Dr Claudia Marck from the University of Melbourne, VIC will determine the best way to guide MS clinicians to assess smoking behaviour and help people with MS to quit smoking. Tobacco smoking is associated with worse health outcomes for people with MS, however up to 30% of people with MS smoke. It is not known whether people with MS are routinely asked about their smoking behaviour and whether they get the help they need to quit. Also, it is not known whether people with MS are aware that smoking worsens their MS. Dr Marck will answer these questions by interviewing people with MS who smoke or have recently quit, as well as neurologists and MS nurses. The goal is to bring smoking rates down and maximise health outcomes in people with MS.

Dr Nasser Bagheri from the Australian National University, ACT will assess all MS services providing care for people with MS in the ACT region. Due to the high complexity care that can be required for people living with MS, there is a need for a detailed description of all the MS resources available and how they are used. Dr Bagheri aims to develop a new local decisionmaking tool that can be used by people with MS and health professionals for monitoring, reviewing and improving MS care in the ACT region. The aim of the study is to eventually extend
this nationally.

Mr Jeremy Keane from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW has found that certain immune cells infected with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) express MS risk genes differently in men compared to women. He will use the grant to determine if these differences are caused by different responses to sex hormones. There are three times more women than men diagnosed with MS in Australia. Women are protected from MS relapses during pregnancy when oestrogen levels are high, but they are at increased risk of a relapse after delivery when oestrogen levels drop. The findings from this study will indicate how sex hormones may affect MS, which may be used for therapeutic benefit.

Mr Stephen Schibeci from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW (pictured front cover) has found that a protein made by EBV hijacks immune cells and manipulates some of the genes within those cells, including the genes known to increase the risk of MS. He will use this funding (with thanks to the Trish MS Research Foundation) to determine whether this protein can be blocked. Findings from this work may support new approaches to control EBV infection, which could lead to the development of new treatment options for people with MS.

The standard of application was extremely high, reflecting the high calibre of science happening in Australia. It is through the generosity of our fundraisers and donors that we are able to fund these innovative projects and ideas so that we can Stop and Reverse MS in the next 10 years.

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

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