Hard won research funding is a boost for MS research

13 December, 2017

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recently announced the successful Australian research projects and fellowships that have been awarded funding for 2018 onwards.

In this round, more than $877 million was awarded to health and medical research covering 1103 new grants to universities, medical research institutions and hospitals across Australia. Amongst those projects announced were seven new MS research projects totalling $4.7 million over the next two to three years.

Over the past few years the government funding environment has become intensely difficult, leaving many strong research teams and projects at risk. So it is particularly exciting to see several up-and-coming young MS researchers and several extremely promising projects funded.

Even more encouraging is the fact that six of the seven laboratories funded by the NHMRC in this round have previously been funded by MS Research Australia. This demonstrates the incredible leverage our funding can achieve to get innovative research off the ground and develop strong teams and strong avenues of investigation.

The new MS projects are outstanding additions to the breadth of research underway in Australia, covering the development of new therapeutics, tools for diagnosis and exploring ways to promote the growth and repair of myelin.

Outstanding young researcher, Dr Kimberley Pitman from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, and clinician researcher, Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan from the University of Sydney, have been awarded prestigious early career fellowships. Dr Pitman will work with Dr Kaylene Young (see below) to investigating ways to protect brain cells in MS. Dr Ramanthan will be working with Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot-Turville (below) on improving diagnosis and treatment decisions in optic neuritis and related disorders.

Dr Sheila Donnelly from the University of Technology Sydney, has been awarded a three-year project grant which follows on from her MS Research Australia grant to investigate the effects that parasitic worms have on the human immune system and whether they or the molecules they produce can be used to as treatments for relapsing MS. You can watch Dr Donnelly talk about her fascinating research at our Live Research Update here.

Professor Jonathan Baell, a medicinal chemist from Monash University, is developing novel chemical agents which will hopefully enhance imaging of the brain in MS. He hopes this will facilitate better prediction of disease outcome and more accurately monitor response to therapies to aide treatment strategies in MS.

Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot-Turville, from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, University of Sydney, has also been awarded a three-year project grant to explore the autoimmune process where a person’s immune system attacks their own brain and optic nerves. This project, which continues the incredible research avenue she has developed with the support of MS Research Australia,  aims to identify and study the earliest autoimmune responses against the central nervous system in children and adults. This research is essential for accurate early diagnosis and treatment.

Two more researchers previously and currently supported by MS Research Australia are Dr Kaylene Young from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, and Dr Tobias Merson from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute have both been awarded three-year project grants to investigate methods to restore the myelin coating of nerve cells in MS. Both are investigating different ways of harnessing the electrical activity of nerves to stimulate myelin repair.

MS Research Australia congratulates all of the researchers for their success in obtaining this exceedingly competitive and prestigious government funding. We would also like to acknowledge the outstanding work of all the deserving scientists who submitted high quality research projects but due to the shortage of research funds missed out on funding.

The outcome of the latest round of MS Research Australia’s funding applications will be announced in January 2018.

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