Developing a therapy for MS

Professor Trevor Kilpatrick continues to make excellent progress with his Trish Translational Research Project which commenced January 2020.

The aim of Professor Kilpatrick’s project is to develop a therapy for MS based on using immune cells from the blood of patients with MS. These immune cells are treated with anti-inflammatory signals in the laboratory and then re-administered back to the patient, where they selectively target and dampen down the disease-causing cells of the immune system that promote inflammation and lead to nerve cell damage in MS.

Professor Kilpatrick and his team have refined techniques to grow these immune cells from blood samples collected from patients and defined culture conditions that can modify the behaviour of these cells that normally process proteins associated with MS to assume protective/anti-inflammatory characteristics rather than disease-inducing/pro-inflammatory. Dexamethasone is one important such factor, reducing expression of proteins on the cell surface and release of chemical signals that normally activate the immune system to cause inflammation and disease.

They have used computer-assisted techniques to design peptides derived from a recently identified protein that drives MS in a significant subset of patients carrying a particular gene (HLA-DRB1*1501) associated with immune system functioning. Amongst a library of synthesised peptides, they have identified certain peptides that are presented on immune cells to activate the immune system, and this can be modified by dexamethasone. When these peptides were added to immune cells from patients with MS, they could detect release of inflammatory signals signifying that the cells were reacting to these peptides.

The next steps will involve treating immune cells with relevant peptides to promote their specificity in targeting MS with dexamethasone to enhance their protective properties. There is accumulating research that certain genes influence the risks of developing MS and biological processes underlying disease. They will also continue performing gene testing on patients with MS to identify those carrying a major risk gene HLA-DRB1*1501 and who may be future candidates for this therapy.

We look forward to learning of additional progress achieved by Professor Kilpatrick and his team.