Understanding relapse free times in MS

Professor Georges Grau

University of Sydney, NSW

| Better treatments | Immunology | Project | 2018 | Investigator Led Research |


MS is the result of the immune system attacking parts of the brain and spinal cord. Many current treatments suppress the immune system, and need to be administered on an ongoing basis. Some of the newer treatments achieve long term disease suppression after only a few doses. In this Project Grant Professor Georges Grau aims to determine why this is.

Professor Grau and others will investigate the blood of people with MS that have received a range of therapies, and those without MS. His team will determine how some treatment agents are able to induce changes to our immune system after only a few doses.

There are a number of different cells that make up our immune systems. These experiments aim to determine which immune cells and how many cells of each type are present in the blood of people with MS when they are experiencing a time of long term remission. Specifically, these tests will look closely at immune cells called T regulatory cells or Tregs, and B regulatory cells or Bregs. These cells are partially responsible for dampening down an immune response.

This work has implications for both relapsing remitting and progressive MS. If we are able to determine which cells are present at times of remission, future therapies may be designed that promote the growth of these types of cells.

Progress to Date

Professor Grau and his colleagues have been exploring the differences in immune cells between people with MS and those without MS.

They are using a cutting-edge technology called mass cytometry, and have successful discovered new subpopulations of B cells, which may be playing a role in the development of MS.

The team is particularly keen to profile immune cells that have a role in dampening down any harmful immune response – they believe that cells known as B regulatory cells are likely to be important. They are not only interested in the difference between those with and without MS, but also those that have been successfully treated with a disease modifying therapy (DMT) and comparing them to people with MS who haven’t been treated successfully.

They have custom designed and developed a new screening test to identify and classify the immune cells present in the blood of people with MS. The team have run these tests on people with MS treated with a DMT, people with MS not treated with a DMT and people without MS. They have so far discovered that certain subpopulations of immune cells increase during active disease and decrease after DMT treatment. These new techniques generate large amounts of data and the team is currently analysing all the data they have generated to find additional differences.

This project is not only developing new techniques but it also shining the light on the differences between those with and without MS. This will allow Professor Grau and his team to get an accurate snapshot of the immune cells present and hopefully identify differences that could be used to develop new treatments that correct any differences in immune cells found in people with MS. .

This work has already led to the publication of one scientific review and one scientific manuscript being accepted for publication. Additionally, these findings have also been presented at multiple national and international conferences.

Updated: 11 June 2020

Updated: 05 January, 2018



  • Professor Simon Hawke, University of Sydney, NSW
  • Associate Professor Scott Byrne, University of Sydney, NSW
  • Dr Anna Zinger, University of Sydney, NSW
  • Associate Professor Michael Barnett, University of Sydney, NSW
  • Associate Professor Suzanne Hodgkinson, University of Sydney, NSW

Grant Awarded

  • Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $225,000


  • 3 years over 2018 - 2020

Funding Partner

  • Anonymous donor
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