Seed funding gets exciting new research off the ground

12 December, 2017

MS Research Australia funds two rounds of incubator grants each year. These grants are designed to provide seed or blue sky funding to help researchers generate preliminary data around new research ideas. This data can then help researchers get further, large grants to more deeply explore these new lines of research.

From the first round of applications received in early 2017 four new incubator grants have just been awarded, totaling $90,000. These research projects have the potential to be developed into therapies and treatment options for people with MS, and to help our understanding of the risk factors for the disease.

Dr Natalie Payne, from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, will research the potential of stem cell-based therapies for people with MS. In the future, specialised cells grown in the laboratory may be injected into a person with MS, where they would release molecules that can help fight the disease. With this incubator grant Dr Payne will develop these cells and test them in a laboratory model of MS. This clinically relevant project will determine if this approach can limit the effects of MS, but also validate that cell-based therapies are a feasible option for MS. This incubator grant was made possible by the generous support from the Trish MS Research Foundation.

Dr Claire McCoy, from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, will determine if a particular molecule, called miR-155, may help switch support cells in the brain from destroying the myelin that protects the nerves in the central nervous system, to promoting repair and remyelination. Her work will help identify whether this molecule could become a useful therapeutic option in MS. This project is supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation.

Dr Yvonne Learmonth, from Murdoch University, will be engaging with the MS community to find ways to better support exercise and physical activity in people with MS. She will focus on people living in non-metropolitan areas of WA to identify how the delivery of physical activity and exercise services, regardless of where people live, can be improved through research. We are grateful to MS WA, whose contribution to MS Research Australia helps to underpin this grant.

Previously, Dr Mary Tolcos, from RMIT University, and her colleagues have shown that a lack of oxygen whilst in the uterus can delay the maturation of cells that make myelin in the brain. This results in a slower formation of myelin in early brain development. During this incubator grant, Dr Tolcos will gather preliminary evidence to determine if this affects the adult brain’s ability to repair myelin damage, and whether it may play a role in MS.

Many excellent applications from the full 2017 grant application rounds were reviewed in November at our Research Management Council meeting and we look forward to bringing you the outcomes early in 2018.

For further information about the current incubator grants and all the research currently funded by MS Research Australia visit www.msra.org.au/projects.

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