2020 was a challenging year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has had lasting effects on many different sectors of society – particularly in medical research and fundraising. 90% of Australian scientists believe that they will experience a delay in research milestones, and of course, we rely on these discoveries to learn more about MS and to develop better treatments.
In the face of financial hardship across Australia, we were overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the MS community in supporting our fundraising event, The May 50K, which raised an unprecedented $6.6 million for MS research. Together with the generous support from the MS state organisations, we have been able to continue our support of MS researchers and, for the first time, we have been able to provide money to all fundable grant applications submitted.
We are pleased to announce $2.9 million of funding for 20 new projects ranging from one-year innovative studies to major three-year projects. The grants include incubator grants, fellowships, scholarships, and project grants that help to support and grow the Australian MS research workforce and promote global collaborations to stop and reverse MS.
MS has many facets and is a very varied disease. The research funded here reflects the diverse nature of MS, with projects encompassing immunology, genetics, neurology, and social and applied research. The projects range from testing music and audio cues to assist walking, to more effective ways of delivering drugs to treat MS, to measuring true SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19 virus) infection rates in MS.
Dr Malini Visweswaran at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney is looking at the chemical processes inside immune cells following autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (AHSCT), to ascertain whether these explain some of the potential benefits from AHSCT.
Dr Kalina Makowiecki at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Tasmania is examining how the loss of myelin coating nerve fibres in MS may lead to changes in cognition.
Dr Charles Malpas of the University of Melbourne is delving into different cognitive function types to help neurologists more accurately diagnose and manage any changes in cognitive abilities.
MS Research Australia is working hard to ensure that our researchers have every chance of success despite the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, we put together an emergency funding package of $275,000 to ensure that our researchers could continue their critical work when laboratories and clinics shut down. We also funded research to collect evidence of COVID-19 impacts on the MS community and joined the international efforts to provide evidence-based COVID-19 guidelines for people with MS. Read more about our COVID-19 research here.
Funding research through awarding grants is only one way MS Research Australia supports and funds research in Australia. We also fund larger nation-wide collaborative projects which we refer to as Research Platforms. One such platform is PrevANZ, our world-leading clinical trial investigating if oral supplementation of Vitamin D can delay the onset of MS. At the end of 2020, the last patient completed this study which has been underway for seven years. This trial has been carried out under the strictest conditions to prevent bias, with neither participants nor their treating doctors aware who was receiving a placebo or vitamin D. Analysis of this trial is now underway, and we expect that the results will be announced later this year.
We are incredibly grateful to the MS community, our donors and funding partners, for making it possible to fund these fantastic researchers as they work towards stopping and reversing MS. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have now funded 327 grants and invested $47.2 million into MS research since inception.
This is just a brief overview of some of the new research projects funded in 2021. View a snapshot of these projects here.
For full details of these and other projects please visit the project pages on our website.