Approved Funding

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

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.