$110,000 towards more exciting new research areas

20 January, 2020
  • MS Research Australia has funded five more MS studies totalling over $110,000 in the second round of incubator grants.
  • Incubator grants are designed to support novel and ‘outside the box’ ideas, allowing the generation of pilot data to prove new concepts which can then be used as leverage 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 is excited to announce the outcome of the second incubator funding round of 2019/20 – five new grants have been awarded totalling over $110,000. Incubator grants provide seed funding to novel and ‘outside the box’ ideas to generate pilot data needed to help attract more comprehensive funding in the future.

The successful studies are:

Dr Jo Lane from the Australian National University ACT will use the grant to introduce an English version of an online program called ELEVIDA. This program has been shown to be effective in reducing MS-related fatigue but is currently only available in Germany. Fatigue is one of the most common and disabling symptoms reported by people living with MS and although many strategies have been used to manage MS-related fatigue, most have limited effectiveness. Dr Lane will ask participants to provide feedback on the language, meaning, structure, usability and acceptability of the online program. The project will also look at participant engagement and enjoyment and whether they found ELEVIDA helpful in managing their MS-related fatigue. This study will allow for the English version of ELEVIDA to be optimised so it can be used in the wider Australian MS community.

Dr Lisa Grech from Swinburne University of Technology VIC will use the grant to investigate how depression is assessed and managed by healthcare professionals in MS specialist clinics, and what barriers exist to assessing and treating depression for both healthcare professionals and people with MS. Depression occurs in MS approximately 2-3 times more often than in the general population. Depression in people with MS has been linked to poorer outcomes, including lower quality of life and greater difficulty with self-care. Despite this, international research shows that detection of depressive symptoms is sub-optimal, missing up to 36% of people with MS and depression. Dr Grech will interview neurologists, nurses and people with MS to answer her research questions. The results of this will inform recommendations to improve the detection and treatment of depression in people with MS.

Dr Matthew Nangle from the University of Queensland QLD will use the grant to address the gap in the literature regarding oral health problems in people with MS. Oral health has traditionally been neglected in people with MS due to the focus on other MS-related clinical needs. This is an important oversight given that many diseases of the mouth can negatively impact MS. Dr Nangle’s work will highlight which types of oral health problems are more common in people with MS, and which of these oral health problems people with MS have difficulties identifying in the early stages. The longer term goal of this work is to inform the development of interventions focused on earlier detection and treatment of oral health problems in people with MS.

Associate Professor Laurence Macia from the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney will use the grant to study gut bacteria in regulating the beneficial effects of intermittent fasting. MS is more common in western countries compared to Asia and Africa due to genetic differences and environmental factors, such as diet. Diet is very important to shape the gut bacteria we host and there is strong evidence that gut bacteria play a critical role in regulating immune responses in MS. Associate Professor Macia and her team have shown that intermittent fasting is effective in improving symptoms in a laboratory model of MS. They have also shown that a molecule produced by gut bacteria called butyrate increased with intermittent fasting. Associate Professor Macia and her team will look at the interaction between butyrate and a protein called GPR109A, which has been shown to regulate immune cells, in regulating the beneficial effects of intermittent fasting.

Associate Professor Michael Buckland from the University of Sydney NSW will use the grant to study how the removal of previously damaged myelin occurs. The brain and spinal cord have the potential to generate new myelin after it is damaged, but for unknown reasons myelin repair fails or is incomplete in MS. Efficient removal of myelin debris after damage is a necessary prerequisite for myelin repair and is performed by a type of cell called microglia. In MS lesions, microglia are activated and one of their functions is to pick up and digest myelin debris. But the mechanisms mediating microglial activation and digestion of myelin debris are not known. Associate Professor Buckland will study a protein called TREM2 in regulating microglial activation and clearing out myelin debris during myelin damage. This study will pave the way for new therapeutic options for MS through boosting the clearance of damaged myelin, allowing more efficient remyelination.

Many excellent applications were reviewed, reflecting the high calibre of science happening in Australia. MS Research Australia looks forward to the outcomes of these research projects, which will get us a step closer to stopping and reversing MS.

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

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