This year, MS Research Australia awarded four vacation scholarships to undergraduate students around Australia. These scholarships provide a valuable opportunity for promising undergraduate students to gain experience working in a lab.
Jasmine Wilson was recently awarded a MS Research Australia Vacation Scholarship to undertake a ten week internship with Dr Iain Comerford at the University of Adelaide. Under Dr Comerford’s supervision, Ms Wilson’s project aimed to study a certain type of stem cell in more detail, to identify if it may hold promise for developing future treatments for MS.
Current therapies that treat ongoing MS are not effective for everyone, and are not able to repair or regenerate MS lesions. New treatment options are of crucial importance to help reverse the damage caused by MS relapses and to prevent accumulation of disability and illness progression.
Cell-based therapies, such as the use of adult human stem cells, hold great promise for the treatment of MS, but they are still in a very early stage of investigation. Vast improvements to these approaches are required before they will be in a position to be widely used as an MS treatment. Currently, stem cells can be isolated from a range of sources including bone marrow, fatty tissue, and dental pulp.
The team have recently shown that dental pulp stem cells can be isolated from the pulp inside human teeth, and that when administered to mice with an MS-like disease, these cells can potentially inhibit the symptoms of disease.
During her scholarship, Ms Wilson was able to modify these cells to express a particular receptor that controls the activation of the immune system. This modification then enabled the stem cells to enter the brain and spinal cord. This is a crucial step forward in making stem cells a viable option in developing treatments for the repair or regeneration of myelin tissue.
This work provides a valuable basis for further study, and Dr Comerford’s team are continuing work to determine if these stem cells may promote tissue repair and inhibit inflammation in mice with MS-like illness. Early results of this work are showing that this approach may improve illness outcomes for mice with MS-like disease.
This year two vacation scholarships, including Ms Wilson’s, were made possible by a generous donation from siblings Ian Triganza and Natalie Gordon. They said ‘It is very exciting that the donation made on our late mother’s behalf has been able to assist the two scholars with their chosen fields of research, and we can only hope that the results of their findings are able to assist people with MS, and contribute in some small way to finding cures for this cruel disease.’