Protecting the Brain - MS Research Australia

Protecting the Brain

Dr Kaylene Young and Professor Bruce Taylor

Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania

| A cure via repair and regeneration | Better treatments | Epidemiology | Genetics | Neurobiology | Fellowship | 2017 | Investigator Led Research |
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Summary

In 2017, with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation, MS Research Australia introduced a new ‘paired’ Fellowship to enable a senior research fellow and a clinician to work together to ‘fast-track’ research breakthroughs and improve outcomes for people living with MS.

The inaugural recipients of the MS Research Australia-Macquarie Group Foundation Paired Fellowship are neuroscientist Dr Kaylene Young and neurologist Professor Bruce Taylor from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Hobart, Tasmania.

In MS, the central nervous system (CNS) is damaged. Current therapies prevent this damage occurring in the first place, but do not repair the damage already caused in MS. Dr Kaylene Young and Professor Bruce Taylor, are working towards new discoveries that may provide treatments to protect and repair the nervous system.

In his clinical research, Professor Taylor has previously discovered a genetic variation that is linked with the development of MS. Using a laboratory model, Dr Young aims to determine how this gene normally functions, and what role it plays in cells. They aim to identify the molecules that this gene interacts with to see if they can find any existing drugs that target it to have an effect on cells isolated from people with MS. Such therapies could protect against MS related injury.

In her laboratory research, Dr Young has found that a form of non-invasive magnetic stimulation can promote myelin growth in the CNS in mice. Dr Young will determine if this magnetic stimulation can also induce myelin growth and repair in laboratory models of MS. Following this, Dr Young will work with Professor Taylor in clinical trials to determine if this treatment is safe for people with MS, and if the treatment is likely to be effective for all people with MS, or for people with specific MS lesions.

Together the pair will draw in other scientist and clinicians to bridge the gap between laboratory findings and clinical practice and vice versa. They will work with their colleagues to establish and evaluate the MS Translation Centre at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Tasmania. The Centre aims to progress discoveries along the translational pipeline to accelerate the delivery of new interventions to improve the lives of people with MS.

Progress to Date

Dr Young and Professor Taylor have continued to make excellent progress on all aims of their work.

Dr Young is continuing her laboratory work to determine the role of the genetic changes identified in the families with MS. This has involved using a cutting-edge technique with international collaborators to generate stem cells directly from blood cells of these family members. These stem cells will then be made into myelin-producing cells that are affected in MS. These cells will form part of a wider stem cell repository called MS Stem. The ultimate goal of this study is to identify the molecules that interact with the MS genes to see if any existing drugs can be found that target them. Therapies stemming from this work could protect against the damage wrought in MS.

Dr Young and Professor Taylor have commenced the non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation clinical trial to determine if this treatment is safe and effective for people with MS. A PhD student and Honours student have begun their projects that will focus on conducting this clinical trial and the associated pre-clinical work. This pre-clinical work has involved investigating the way myelin repairs in response to the transcranial magnetic stimulation, and the development of a new model of MS that more accurately mimics what is happening in human disease. Tissue collection in the laboratory is now complete and analysis is underway.

In addition to establishing the MS Translation Centre at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Tasmania and the MS Research and Translation Network, Dr Young and Professor Taylor have collaborated with the network in the production of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Understanding MS. This course was launched internationally in April 2019 and was a huge success, with 97% of participants recommending the course and 61% stating they would implement what they’ve learnt into their lives. It is currently the 7th highest ranked online course from universities within the MOOC program worldwide and the 2nd highest ranked course in the Health and Medicine category.

New scientific collaborations, a key goal of the fellowship, have also arisen from this work in the last year. This includes with Professor Michael Barnett, a neurologist based at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, to provide expertise on the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedure for the transcranial magnetic stimulation clinical trial; Professor Trevor Kilpatrick from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Professor Anne-Louise Ponsonby from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, to collaborate on the stem cell work and clinical trial.

Dr Young and Professor Taylor have secured additional MS-related funding, including a $10 million federal government funding boost under the Medical Research Future Fund as part of the collaborative flagship MS research program at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, which is led by Professor Taylor and includes Dr Young.

Updated: 23 August 2019

Updated: 08 November, 2017

Investigator

Grant Awarded

  • MS Research Australia-Macquarie Group Foundation Paired Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $750,000

Duration

  • 3 years over 2017 – 2019

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