Approved Funding

Find out about the wonderful projects we have been able to support

2020

The Trish MS Research Foundation is thrilled to announce the Research Projects, in partnership with MS Research Australia, we are funding commencing 2020.  A stringent Grant Review Process has been undertaken to select the most appropriate research to fund.  Details can be found here.

Due to the Foundation being honoured to receive substantial bequests from inspirational, long-time supporter Mia Polykarpou and the Deputy Headmistress of Trish’s school, Joan Goff, the Trish Foundation is funding three Translational Research Grants which will facilitate translational pre-clinical and clinical research by a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team working on a project with a clearly articulated pathway to clinical application. The Project Grants demonstrate direct relevance for the prevention and/or reversal of disability in MS and demonstrate a clear, feasible pathway for clinical implementation.

The three Trish Translational Research Grants are:

A cure for MS via repair or regeneration of cells

Trish Translational Research Grant over three years fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Dr Steven Petratos

Monash University, Victoria

Co-Investigator:  Dr Nick Wong

Summary

Dr Steven Petratos and his team are looking to repurpose a drug previously approved for use in a different neurological condition. He has previously shown that this drug may slow the progression of MS in a laboratory model of MS. Dr Petratos will investigate the mechanisms by which it works. He will first look at whether the drug can protect brain cells from dying when the immune system attacks the brain. He will then look at whether it enters the brain and promotes the generation of new cells which then in turn protect the nerve fibres.

If this project is successful and the drug is shown to be safe and has a clinical impact, it is hoped that its development could be accelerated due to the fact it is already in clinical use for other disease.

Trish Translational Research Grant over three years fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Professor Trevor Kilpatrick

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Victoria

Co-Investigators:  Professor Anthony Purcell, Professor Jamie Rossjohn, Ms Michele Binder

Summary

MS is caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulating coating on nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. Currently it is treated with drugs that target certain immune cells, but these therapies are only partially effective and are generally ineffective in treating progressive disease.

In this innovative project, Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his team are investigating ways to manipulate the immune system. The immune system has a series of complex signals that either tell the immune system to attack, or tell it to calm any inflammation. Professor Kilpatrick and his team are planning to collect the cells in the blood that send some of these signals and trick them into sending calming signals. He’ll then reinject them back into the body. This approach could be very effective as it targets key initiating events in MS. It could treat all disease stages as the targeted cells are mobile and can move to the site of damage in MS to inhibit disease-causing immune cells, otherwise hidden from current drug therapies.

The benefits of this approach will first be studied in laboratory models of MS. Professor Kilpatrick will also harvest these cells from people with and without MS and, using the same methods as employed for the laboratory models, determine whether they can be induced to block disease promoting activities of the immune cells in the laboratory. The cells that are being focused on are already the subject of intense study, including in early phase clinical trials for treatment of other diseases, so the work will be translatable to clinical trials in people with MS.

Trish Translational Research Grant over three years fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Associate Professor Anneke Van der Walt

Monash University, Victoria

Co-Investigators:  Professor Helmut Butzkueven, Dr Vilija Jokubaitis, Dr Scott Kolbe, Associate Professor Adam Vogel, Associate Professor David Darby, Dr Jim Stankovich, Professor Richard Macdonell

Summary

Knowing as early as possible if a treatment for MS is keeping the disease under full control is important but difficult to do. The reason for this is that the ‘usual care’ or ‘one size fits all’ model of healthcare relies on people with MS seeing their neurologist for 15-30 minutes, once or twice a year. Treatment decisions are therefore made on a brief snapshot of how someone is functioning rather than real-life long term information.

New technology, especially health apps and smartphones, have made it possible for people with MS to collect information during their daily life. If we combine this information with routine neurology assessments, MRI data and even genetic information, we can, for the first time, get a complete picture of someone’s functioning. This can help more rapidly determine if a medication is working and how a person’s MS is really going. By detecting subtle changes earlier, MS treatments can be used more efficiently. These subtle changes may be used to test and develop new treatments for progressive MS, as currently there is no rapid and reliable method to test new treatments in progressive MS.

This study will test 3 different health apps in MS clinics in Melbourne and compare this information with detailed clinical notes of the participants. This will allow the researchers to determine whether they can detect subtle changes using these apps and whether they can use this information to detect meaningful changes in people’s MS when using these apps. The researchers will also collect blood samples (for genetic profiles) and perform MRIs on all the participants in order to try and find common signs which may allow to predict the course of someone’s MS.

The extremely generous support of our Sponsors, donors and supporters has enabled the Foundation to also fund the following:

Postgraduate Research Scholarship over three years funded by the NHMRC with ‘top up’ funding by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Dr Vivien Li

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Victoria

Supervisor:  Professor Trevor Kilpatrick

Summary

MS is a disease resulting from damage to the insulation around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, called myelin. It occurs when the body’s own immune system mistakenly identifies myelin as a foreign invader. MS most commonly presents with a relapsing remitting (RRMS) disease course, which is categorised by flare-ups followed by periods of recovery. However, many people with RRMS end up developing secondary progressive MS (SPMS), which is categorised by a steady worsening of symptoms without recovery. A minority of people present with primary progressive MS (PPMS), where there is a steady accumulation of disability right from diagnosis. While many treatments are now available for RRMS, there are few effective therapies for progressive MS that prevent the worsening of disability. This may be because there are different biological processes involved in relapsing and progressive MS. Current therapies generally target cells in the immune system that are thought to directly attack nerve cells. However, a potentially more potent approach is to dampen down the initial stimulation of the immune system. This could be done by having a treatment that mimics the natural signals that dampen down the immune system.

Existing work from this laboratory group has identified some of these signals. They have also found a gene involved in regulating the immune response, found in 40% of Caucasian people with MS, which can increase the likelihood of developing progressive MS.

The aim of this project is to study ways to dampen down the abnormal immune activation, which will hopefully lead to new ways of combatting MS.

A cure for MS via repair or regeneration of cells

Incubator Grant over one year in 2020 fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Associate Professor Michael Buckland

The University of Sydney, NSW

Co-Investigator:  Associate Professor Laura Piccio

Summary

MS is a disease in which the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerves in the central nervous system (CNS-brain and spinal cord), called myelin. Myelin damage is referred to as demyelination and the consequence is the disruption of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. The CNS has the potential to generate new myelin (remyelination) after damage, but for unknown reasons remyelination fails or is incomplete in MS. Efficient removal of the previously damaged myelin is a necessary prerequisite for repair to myelin to occur. In the CNS, a specific cell type called microglia, is capable of clearing out myelin debris after damage. In MS lesions, the site of damage in MS, microglial cells are activated and one of their functions is to pick up and digest damaged myelin. The mechanisms mediating microglia activation and digestion of myelin debris are not known.

Associate Professor Michael Buckland has been studying the role of TREM2, a protein made in microglia cells. In this project, he will study the possible role of TREM2 in regulating the functions of microglia cells and how it helps in clearing out damaged myelin.

These studies are new because TREM2-mediated microglial activation pathway has not been investigated before in the context of demyelination in the central nervous system. This pilot proposal will allow to generate preliminary data that will be used to apply for larger research grants to MS Research Australia and the NHMRC.

Project Grant over three years fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Dr Grant Parnell

Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Co-Investigator:  Professor David Booth

Summary

Evidence from laboratory and real life studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D is associated with MS. However, clinical trials using vitamin D supplementation as a treatment have not proven successful.

Dr Grant Parnell and his team have been looking at how the body metabolises vitamin D and have discovered that the form of vitamin D used in supplementation studies is very important. Often the form used in clinical studies relies on a two-step activation in the body, which may be sub-optimal in MS. This is caused by several genetic factors, including low amounts of activating enzyme.

In this project, the team aims to find out how to avoid these limits to response by tracking the vitamin D pathway in immune cells, and identifying the processes important in making immune cells less active. This should lead to better ways to exploit vitamin D for therapy, including providing tools to assess the success of supplementation.

Incubator Grant

The Trish Foundation’s big-hearted supporters dug deep at the Trish MS Winter Wonderland Ball, generously donating funds for two Incubator Grants.  Following a recommendation from MS Research Australia, the Foundation’s honorary Scientific Research Committee and Board have approved an Incubator Grant awarded to Mr Stephen Schibeci, Westmead Institute for Medical Research.  Details are below.

The second Incubator Grant will be announced with the Foundation’s 2020 Round of Funding in January 2020.

Incubator Grant over one year fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Mr Stephen Schibeci

Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Co-Investigators: Dr Grant Parnell, Dr Sanjay Swaminathan

Summary

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), the virus responsible for glandular fever, has long been implicated in MS onset and progression. Mr Stephen Schibeci and his team have recently found evidence of a link between the activity of MS risk genes and EBV infection, which may be why EBV infection impacts on MS onset and progression. Finding a way to block EBV infection may provide a new treatment option for people with MS.

Mr Stephen Schibeci and his team have found that a protein made by EBV may control the activity of MS risk genes in immune cells. He aims to determine if the EBV protein does this by binding to the MS risk genes, and if so, if this binding can be blocked with a molecule that will prevent the function of the EBV protein.

Findings from this work may support new approaches to control EBV infection by using molecules that reduce the growth of EBV-infected immune cells. This may lead to development of new treatment options for people with MS.

2019

The Trish MS Research Foundation is thrilled to announce the Research Projects we are funding commencing 2019, only possible due to the great generosity of our extraordinarily generous Sponsors, donors and supporters, for which we are extremely grateful.

The question is often asked, “How do we ensure only the highest quality MS research is funded?”

A stringent Grant Review Process is undertaken to select the most appropriate research to fund.  Details can be found here.

The Foundation is pleased to be funding the following five Research Projects:

Incubator Grant over one year in 2019 fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Associate Professor Anthony Don

The University of Sydney, NSW

Co-investigator: Dr Jonathan David Teo

Summary

In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective layer on nerve cells known as myelin. The removal or damage of myelin is known as demyelination and it results in some of the symptoms observed in people with MS. Current treatments for MS focus on suppressing the immune system and there are yet to be any therapies developed that promote the re-myelination of nerves, which is needed to reverse MS symptoms.

Associate Professor Anthony Don has developed evidence that a naturally occurring signalling chemical in the body known as sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), is important for the creation and maintenance of myelin. One of the MS medications, fingolimod (Gilenya), which modulates the immune system, is known to mimic S1P and there is some evidence to suggest that it might also promote remyelination. How it might do this, however, is not yet clear.

This project will aim to determine how S1P might stimulate myelin repair and assess whether this S1P is needed for the body’s natural ability to remyelinate nerves following an MS relapse. The work has direct and immediate significance for MS, as it will clarify whether drugs, such as fingolimod and other similar drugs currently being developed, should be investigated as myelin repair therapies, as well as immune modifying treatments for MS.

Incubator Grant over one year in 2019 fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator: Dr Steven Petratos

Monash University, Victoria

Co-investigator:  Dr Kaylene Young

Summary

MS is an inflammatory disease which damages the myelin layer on nerve cells. This damage not only hinders the nerve impulses travelling down the nerve fibres, but also leaves the cells vulnerable to degeneration. It is thought that this nerve degeneration is a large contributor to progressive MS. Therefore, it is important that we discover ways to enhance the body’s natural abilities to regenerate its myelin layer (remyelinate nerve fibres). Dr Steven Petratos has been working on determining which molecules are responsible for nerve fibre damage, with the purpose of blocking the damage and protecting nerves.

Dr Petratos and his team have generated strong data indicating that a protein called MCT8 is vital for the survival of oligodendrocytes, the cells that are responsible for the creation of myelin. They have also developed a drug called DITPA, which can mimic the activity of the MCT8 protein. Their work so far suggests it may be possible to use this drug DIPTA, to enhance remyelination.

Scientists from Dr Petratos’ lab have shown that while myelin producing cells which lack MCT8 die, when they are treated with their DIPTA drug, they survive and go on to mature into functional myelin producing cells. Additionally, in areas of MS disease activity in the human brain, there appears to be a reduction in the amount of MCT8 that can be found. This suggests that this is an important protein in the disease process.

This project sets out to conduct further laboratory tests of this potential new treatment for progressive MS, by investigating this drug as a way of repairing damage to the myelin protecting nerve cells. If successful, the team will ultimately aim to take the drug forward for testing in clinical trials in people with MS.

Project Grant over three years commencing 2019 to which the Trish MS Research Foundation is contributing

Investigator:  Dr Junhua Xiao

The University of Melbourne, Victoria

Co-investigator:  Dr Timothy Aumman

Summary

In MS, the immune system damages the myelin or fatty protective cover of nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, leaving the nerve cells vulnerable to breaking down. The body’s natural ability to repair myelin is often insufficient, and the nerve fibres remain vulnerable to further break down. While there have been a number of advances in the treatment of MS, they mostly target the immune system to prevent attacks against the myelin. However, such therapies do not directly help regenerate any damage that might persist. Therefore there is clear need to develop ways to enhance the repair of myelin.

In this project the scientists will be looking at a protein called TrkB which is made in the nerve cells in the brain and seems to be important in the remyelination process. Using a combination of ground-breaking scientific approaches, this project will look at what happens to the remyelination process in cells in the presence and absence of TrkB. Dr Junhua Xiao will investigate whether it impacts on the number of myelin producing cells known as oligodendrocytes, and whether it protects against the breakdown of nerve fibres. It is important to determine precisely how TrkB promotes remyelination because this will indicate potential new drug targets to promote remyelination in MS.

Project Grant over two years commencing 2019, fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Dr Simon Murray

The University of Melbourne, Victoria

Co-investigator:  Dr Jessica Fletcher

Summary

Methods to promote the rebuilding of myelin after myelin loss are essential to prevent the progression of disability in MS. Dr Simon Murray and his team have identified that a growth factor produced in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), promotes myelination during early development of the brain. They believe it may also be useful to help maintain and repair myelin after injury in the adult brain.

Dr Murray and his team have been using a compound which copies the actions of BDNF and have shown that it promotes myelin renewal in basic laboratory models of MS. This project will take the next step in this line of research to see if the compound can promote myelin repair in an environment which more closely mirrors the situation we see in people with MS. They will use a more complex model of myelin damage: where spontaneous remyelination does not occur and where there have been repeated episodes of myelin loss, reflecting the conditions that might occur in people with MS.

The outcome of this project will help identify whether this compound might ultimately be useful as a drug to stimulate myelin repair in people with MS.

Postgraduate Scholarship over three years commencing 2019, fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation

Investigator:  Dr Justin Garber

The University of Sydney, NSW

Co-investigators:  Professor Michael Barnett, Dr Chenyu Wang

Summary

In this PhD project, Dr Justin Garber and colleagues will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to determine what drives brain cell loss in people with progressive MS. MRI is a powerful technique which can detect subtle changes in the brain and spinal cords of people with MS. Dr Garber will track a group of people with progressive MS over two years and is planning to use advanced MRI techniques to determine whether the majority of brain cell loss occurs within MS lesions in the brain or more generally throughout the brain.

The second part of his study will look at using these MRIs to map the connections in the brain. Comparing changes in these connections over time in people with progressive MS will allow Dr Garber to detect small changes in the brain that occur well before outward signs of disability begin to show. Hopefully, this will provide a simple way of measuring disease activity and could be used in clinical trials to determine whether a treatment is working or not in a shorter timeframe. These markers could provide a framework to help test new myelin repair therapies and ultimately to monitor treatment response in people with MS in clinical practice.

2018

With our profound appreciation to our very generous Sponsors, donors and supporters, the Trish Foundation is pleased to announce research funding for grants commencing January 2018. These grants were recommended for funding following a thorough review of applications by external peer reviewers and MS Research Australia’s expert Research Management Council. MS Research Australia’s robust procedures ensure that the most rigorous science, with the greatest potential for success are funded.

The Trish Foundation is contributing to the following five Research Projects:

Associate Professor Justin Rubio and his Co-investigators Associate Professor Stephen Leslie and Associate Professor Michael Barnett have been awarded a MS Research Australia Project Grant for two years investigating the DNA from single cells in the brain to better understand progressive MS.

MS is a very varied diseased. Currently, we cannot predict the course an individual person’s disease with take. The majority of people are originally diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, of those close to 60% will eventually go on to develop secondary progressive MS, whereas others don’t. However, it is unclear what factors are responsible for the transition to progressive disease. While large genetic studies have identified over 100 genes involved in the risk of developing relapsing-remitting MS, similar studies in progressive MS have not found risk genes that leads to the transition to progressive forms of MS.

Associate Professor Rubio is examining the DNA and genes of individual brain cells of people with MS. This is because not all cells in our bodies are the same, even though they start off containing the same DNA, individual cells can develop genetic mutations as we age. These mutations in individual cells may influence the way those cells act and function. Associate Professor Rubio hypotheses that mutations in individual brain cells in people with MS might be responsible for the development of progressive MS.

In this project, Associate Professor Rubio and his team will isolate single cells from the brains of people who had MS. Using a process called Next Generation Sequencing, his team will then study the DNA of these cells, he is hoping to determine which genes are involved in progressive MS. This could pave the way for the development of new therapies for progressive MS.

The Trish Foundation has partnered with MS Research Australia to fully fund some additional research of Dr Steven Petratos from Monash University. Dr Petratos has been awarded a one year Project Grant to test a drug that could stop and potentially reverse progressive MS. Dr Petratos’ Co-investigator is Dr Kaylene Young from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania.

Myelin is the protective coating around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin. In progressive MS, there is a gradual increase in disability without periods of remission. This gradual loss of myelin may be the cause of progressive MS.

In previous studies, it was found that the molecule called MCT8 is lacking in some people with MS. This molecule is found in the cells that make myelin, called oligodendrocytes. Without sufficient amounts of MCT8, the oligodendrocytes die and do not produce myelin.

In this project, Dr Petratos and his team will perform some pre-clinical studies to determine if a potential therapeutic is able to stop and potentially reverse the loss of myelin in the brain. This therapy may allow the oligodendrocytes to survive and produce myelin, allowing the body to repair itself. This research may lead to a new therapeutic option for people with progressive MS.

The Trish Foundation is supporting a three-year MS Research Australia Project Grant awarded to Dr Peter Crouch who will begin preclinical trials of a therapy for progressive multiple sclerosis” at The University of Melbourne.  Dr Crouch’s Co-investigators are Dr James Hilton, Dr Blaine Roberts, Dr Paul Donnelly and Dr Dominic Hare.

MS is a very varied disease and people experience different levels of disability. The majority of people with MS are diagnosed with a form of the disease called relapsing-remitting MS, which is characterised by acute attacks followed by periods of remission in which the disease doesn’t progress. Around half of these people will go on to develop a form of MS which is progressive, called secondary progressive MS, where there is a gradual accumulation of disabilities. The rarest form, primary progressive MS, is progressive from the start. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of treatment options for people with progressive disease.

The development of treatment options for progressive MS is hampered by the current lack of understanding of the biochemical mechanisms that differentiate relapsing-remitting MS from the progressive forms. Dr Crouch has discovered that copper which is normally found in the body, is not distributed normally in the body of people with progressive MS, and hypothesis this effects the function of some of the body’s enzymes leading to changes in the biochemical processes in individual cells.

Dr Peter Crouch aims to use this project grant to quantify the amount of copper in tissue from the brain and spinal cord in people with and without MS. He is also hoping to understand how copper in the body influences the molecular mechanisms that underpin progressive MS, and to begin pre-clinical trials of a potential therapy for progressive forms of the disease.

The Foundation is contributing to a MS Research Australia Project Grant titled “Enhancing Myelin repair in multiple sclerosis” at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, VIC, led by Professor Trevor Kilpatrick.  Co-investigators for this three year project are Dr Simon Murray, Ms Michele Binder, Professor Bernard Zalc, Dr Junhua Xiao, Dr Anne Desmazieres and Professor Robyn McCallen.

In MS, myelin, the protective coating around the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord is damaged by the immune system. This protective coating not only protects nerves but also provides nourishment and support, and without it nerve cells will eventually die. Current, MS therapies suppress the immune system but do not promote the repair of nerve cells which have been previously damaged.

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his team are investigating a protein called Tyro3 which in the laboratory has been shown to improve the natural repair processes in the brain by causing the production of myelin. In this project, this team will determine whether producing more myelin in laboratory models of MS is enough to reverse the damage associated with MS. They will also test if certain other medications, already approved for treating other diseases, (in what is known as drug repurposing) are able to promote new myelin production in the brain.

These studies could lead to the creation of new therapies or re-purposing of current therapies to enhance myelin repair, and slow down or stop the progression of MS.

Investigator:Dr Fiona McKay, Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Co-Investigators:

Professor David Booth, Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Associate Professor Golo Ahlenstiel, Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Professor Steve Vucic, Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Ms Nicole Fewings, Westmead Institute for Medical Research, NSW

Project Grant for three years, 2018 – 2020

Natural killer (NK) cells are responsible for killing harmful cells in the body. This includes the body’s own cells that are infected with viruses, and other immune cells that inappropriately attack our own body (autoimmune cells).

Previous work by Dr Fiona McKay and colleagues has found that in some people with MS, their NK cells are not working properly. In a laboratory model of MS, they have also that malfunction of NK cells are associated with increased MS relapses.

In this Project Grant Dr McKay and her team will determine if NK cells from people with MS are able to kill cells infected with viruses, and/or autoimmune cells, in the laboratory.

A number of drugs that enhance the function of NK cells have been approved to treat cancer. Dr McKay will investigate if these drugs can be repurposed to improve the function of NK cells in people with MS to kill cells infected with viruses, and/or autoimmune cells.

2017

With our heartfelt gratitude to our very generous Sponsors, donors and supporters, the Trish Foundation is delighted to announce research funding for grants commencing January 2017. These grants were recommended for funding following a thorough review of applications by external peer reviewers and MS Research Australia’s expert Research Management Council.

The number and quality of applications received continues to grow year on year, making the funding decisions exceptionally challenging. However, the robust procedures ensure that the most rigorous science, with the greatest potential to make an impact for people affected by MS, can keep moving forward.

The Foundation is thrilled to be funding two project grants awarded to outstanding, emerging MS research leaders, Dr Tobias Merson at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Monash University, Melbourne, and Dr Kaylene Young at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Tasmania. These researchers are pursuing exciting and complementary research projects to understand how nerve activity can be used to promote myelin re-growth and restore lost function in MS.

Full details of these two project grants and Dr Joshua Barton’s Postgraduate Research Scholarship, which the Trish Foundation is also funding, can be found below:

Project Grant – $120,000 over 2017-2018 funded by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation

Investigator:
Dr Toby Merson, Monash University, Victoria

Co-Investigator:
Dr Stanislaw Mitew, Monash University, Victoria

Summary

MS results from the damage and loss of myelin, the conductive layer around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin can be repaired, but this process is incomplete and failure of this repair is thought to underlie conversion to secondary progressive MS. During progressive phases of MS, the nerve fibre itself is directly damaged and currently this is impossible to reverse, leading to the accumulation of disability.

Dr Merson’s team have shown that increasing the electrical activity of nerve fibres in brain tissue that is not affected by MS enhances the laying down of myelin on these nerve fibres. Other research has recently shown that blocking electrical activity in lesions within the MS brain reduces the brain’s ability to repair the lost myelin. In this project Dr Merson will test whether electrical activity within nerve cells alters the ability of myelin to be repaired in laboratory models of MS. Determining new ways to enhance repair in the MS brain will hopefully lead to new therapeutic options for the progressive phase of MS in the future.   MS results from the damage and loss of myelin, the conductive layer around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin can be repaired, but this process is incomplete and failure of this repair is thought to underlie conversion to secondary progressive MS. During progressive phases of MS, the nerve fibre itself is directly damaged and currently this is impossible to reverse, leading to the accumulation of disability. Dr Merson’s team have shown that increasing the electrical activity of nerve fibres in brain tissue that is not affected by MS enhances the laying down of myelin on these nerve fibres. Other research has recently shown that blocking electrical activity in lesions within the MS brain reduces the brain’s ability to repair the lost myelin. In this project Dr Merson will test whether electrical activity within nerve cells alters the ability of myelin to be repaired in laboratory models of MS.

Determining new ways to enhance repair in the MS brain will hopefully lead to new therapeutic options for the progressive phase of MS in the future.

Project Grant – $170,000 over 2017-2019 funded by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation

Investigator:
Dr Kaylene Young, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Tasmania

Co-Investigators:
Dr Carlie Cullen, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Tasmania
Associate Professor Jennifer Rodger, University of Western Australia, WA

Summary

MS results from the loss of myelin, the insulating sheath around nerve fibres, in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin can be repaired, but in the progressive forms of MS, repair is not complete leading to irreversible disability. There are currently no treatment options that are capable of repairing myelin damage for people with progressive MS.

Dr Young and her team have recently established that a non-invasive technique, known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, is able to massage brain activity and increase the production of cells that produce myelin in the brain. In this project, Dr Young will use this technology as a treatment in two different laboratory models of MS. She will test its ability to increase the production of the myelin producing cells, to re-wrap nerve fibres in myelin and promote lesion repair in the brain. Dr Young will examine brain tissue under the microscope to determine effectiveness of this treatment in mediating successful repair of myelin and in combatting disease progression in the models.

This type of magnetic stimulation is safe for human use and is already being used clinically for the treatment of other nervous system disorders. Therefore, it is hoped that a successful outcome from this project will allow it to be trialled in hospitals for the treatment of people with MS within a short timeframe, providing a much needed therapeutic option for progressive MS.

Postgraduate Scholarship – $67,000 over 2017-2018 funded by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation

Investigator:    
Dr Joshua Barton, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, NSW

Supervisor:      
Associate Professor Michael Barnett, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, NSW

Summary

The current methods available to clinicians and researchers to measure the progression of disease and disability in people with MS are relatively insensitive and must be measured over relatively long periods of time. However, people with early MS often have changes to their brains which do not result in symptoms, so called ‘sub-clinical changes’ which can affect disability later in the disease. Clinical trials for medications that aim to slow or halt disability progression are also hampered by this lack of sensitive measures for progression.

Dr Barton, a clinician currently receiving advanced training in neurology, will undertake a postgraduate scholarship to develop a tablet based tool that will track sub-clinical changes in real-time.

The tests, that can be easily administered in the clinic, or for the first time, in a person’s home, will measure aspects of the visual system – the eyes and the parts of the brain that process vision. The tablet based testing will be recorded over time and compared with more traditional measures of relapse activity and disability, measurements taken by advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other markers of disturbance to the visual pathway.

Dr Barton will also determine whether these visual measurements also show improvement in people who improve clinically after commencing highly effective disease modifying therapy for their MS. It is expected this research will yield a novel tool able to be used in clinical trials and in the clinic to monitor disease progression and the effectiveness of therapies for MS in the real world setting.