International Progressive MS Alliance project updates

05 September, 2016

Dr Steven Petratos, Monash University

The International Progressive MS Alliance has brought together MS organisations and researchers from around the world to tackle progressive MS. By 2019, the Alliance will have invested A$31 million (€22 million) into progressive MS research. MS Research Australia is proud to be a managing member of the Alliance.  The International Progressive MS Alliance identified a number of priority areas to tackle the barriers to treatment and outcomes for people with progressive MS. These include understanding the mechanisms which underlie how MS becomes progressive, devising new ways to measure progression so we can design and conduct shorter, faster clinical trials and develop and evaluate new therapies for progressive MS.

In 2014, the International Progressive MS Alliance awarded their first ‘Challenge Awards’ to encourage scientific innovation, and ‘Infrastructure Awards’ to promote data sharing and knowledge management. Over $1.6 million in funding went to 22 projects from nine countries, including one to Dr Steven Petratos from Monash University in Australia. The full progress report of these projects has now been released via the Alliance website and shows researchers making ground against progressive MS.

Progress has been made on numerous fronts, with projects in this round looking to improve clinical trials for progressive MS and associated outcome measures, biomarkers (measureable indicators) of progression, genetic studies, rehabilitation trials, new disease models, and research to better understand the cellular mechanisms which underlie progression. Particular highlights include the development of a smartphone app to track walking speed and other measures in progressive MS clinical trials by Professor Paul Matthews at Imperial College London and the discovery of a potential blood biomarker that can distinguish between slow and rapid disease progression by a research group led by Charlotte Teunissen from the University Hospital Vrije Universisteit- VUMC in the Netherlands.

Dr Petratos, who undertook the only Australian-led project from this round of funding, was investigating the role of a molecule called Nogo-A in nerve fibre damage in progressive MS. The researchers were aiming to block Nogo-A by delivering agents directly to the brain and spinal cord to hopefully limit MS-like disease in laboratory models of MS. The research team investigated the role of the Nogo-A related gene (known as NgR1) in nerve fibre degeneration and found that by blocking this gene they could limit nerve fibre damage and the subsequent neurodegeneration.

The International Progressive MS Alliance is currently assessing the full proposals for their next grant round, where they are looking to award three large 4.2 million grants over 4 years to fund Collaborative Networks of scientists to accelerate progress in the Alliance priority areas.

For further information on the Alliance please visit the website www.progressivemsalliance.org

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