New translational grants accelerated by bequests

New translational grants accelerated by bequests

21 January, 2020
  • MS Research Australia has joined our long-time funding partner the Trish MS Research Foundation to offer a new grant scheme, resulting in three new exciting projects.
  • These projects have been made possible by two generous bequests to the Trish MS Research Foundation.
  • The grant round was specifically aimed to encourage multi-disciplinary teams to work together on clinical or pre-clinical translational research.
  • The awarded grants cover a range of topics from repurposing an existing neurological drug, using cellular therapies, to using wearables and other devices to measure treatment outcomes.

The Trish MS Research Foundation was inspired by Trish Langsford who sadly passed away in 2002 at the age of 30 with an advanced form of multiple sclerosis (MS). The Trish MS Research Foundation was established with the specific goal of finding a cure or preventive strategy for MS. MS Research Australia and the Trish MS Research Foundation have worked together since the inception of MS Research Australia in 2004 to help accelerate these goals.

This new call for research attracted applications of very high quality, all of which went through a rigorous process of peer review involving international as well as local experts. Grants were assessed on their scientific merit and their ability to translate fundamental research (laboratory or theoretical work to gain new knowledge in the MS field) into actionable benefits for people with MS, particularly progressive MS. Focus was given to projects that could potentially prevent or reverse disability and symptom progression in MS.

The three successful projects were:

Dr Steven Petratos: Developing a new drug to repair the brain in MS

Dr Petratos has been studying ways to encourage the body’s natural repair mechanisms to help repair the damage caused by MS. In this project Dr Petratos is working on a drug which has shown promising signs of helping the body repair myelin (the insulating coating on nerve cells damaged in MS). This drug is already used for some inherited neurological conditions which means that it can be more rapidly repurposed for the treatment of MS. Repair of myelin or remyelination is believed to be an important step in helping prevent and reverse MS symptoms, and it is also believed to be important in treating progressive MS for which there is very limited treatment options.

Dr Petratos and his team will examine how this drug might work, with early results suggesting that it might protect some of the myelin producing cells found in the brain.

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick:  Developing cellular therapy to treat MS

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick is exploring a novel method to treat MS. He and his team are looking at using cells as a therapy. Most current therapies try and block the immune system after it has been activated, or after the immune system gets triggered to attack. Professor Kilpatrick and his team are trying to develop a treatment that will hopefully stop the immune cells getting activated in the first place, and instead transform the cells into cells which reduce the activity of the immune system. This approach may be very effective as it targets key initiating events in MS and could treat all disease stages. This is because the cells that will be used as a therapy are mobile and can move into the brain to inhibit disease-causing immune cells where they might be hidden from current drug therapies.

Associate Professor Anneke van der Walt: Proactive monitoring of neurological function in MS

MS is a very varied disease, and keeping it under full control is important, but very challenging. Determining whether a certain medication is working is hard until it is too late and a relapse happens. It is also very challenging to have a robust and immediate measure of disease progression in progressive MS. However, new technologies, especially health apps and smartphones that collect information and data during daily life, promise to change that. By using this data neurologists will get a more accurate measure of a person’s MS and be able to tailor medications better. Or in the case of progressive MS, neurologists may be able to use some of this data as a way to measure progression more rapidly and more robustly, accelerating clinical trials into new progressive MS medications.

This project will be using three different health apps to track people with MS, and will correlate the results from the apps with clinical notes and MRI data. This will allow the researchers to validate the app-based data as a measure of MS and disease progression. This in turn could lead to better therapeutic decisions and more robust uniform measures of progressive MS, hopefully helping to accelerate the discovery of new progressive MS treatments.

Exciting times for progressive MS research

This is a really exciting time for progressive MS research, with each of these three projects addressing this area of one of the greatest unmet needs. This has only been made possible by people leaving a gift in their will, and through collaboration between the Trish MS Research Foundation and MS Research Australia. As the saying goes, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. These studies are a truly collaborative effort made possible by our generous donors, the partnership between MS Research Australia and the Trish MS Research Foundation, and the amazing scientists in Australia, and reflect what can be achieved working together.




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