Enhancing brain activity to re-wrap nerve fibres

In 2017 Associate Professor Kaylene Young was awarded a three-year Project Grant funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation.

Over the course of this project, A/Prof Young and her team aimed to examine whether repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can induce cells to lay down new myelin and repair existing damage in three laboratory models of MS. One model has a single small focal lesion, the second is a model of low inflammatory MS and the third a model of highly inflammatory MS.

In initial findings, A/Prof Young has shown that rTMS increases the number of new myelin producing cells added to the brain and spinal cord of laboratory models and the rate of myelination by increasing their survival. She has also looked at the impact rTMS has on existing myelin producing cells and found that the structure of myelin changes upon rTMS and learning, which both alter activity in the brain. This change has a significant impact on the speed of information transfer in the brain. It also has implications for understanding how myelin producing cells work in the healthy brain and how loss of myelin affects brain function.

A/Prof Young has carried out rTMS on the models that have the single lesion, a large brain lesion with low-level inflammation and a large brain lesion with high-level inflammation. The last model is newly established for inflammatory MS that produces brain lesions in addition to spinal cord lesions. This means that it more closely resembles the pattern of lesions and myelin loss seen in people with MS. A/Prof Young has examined the events that take place after demyelination occurs in these three models. She has found that demyelination in the model with the single lesion increased the generation of new myelin-producing cells that remyelinate the lesion, but this model did not experience outward symptoms of MS. Demyelination occurred in the model with the large brain lesion with low-level inflammation, which was repaired over time. Clear demyelination also occurred in the model with the large brain lesion with high-level inflammation, which was maintained over time, although the amount of precursor myelin-producing cells increased in response to the demyelination. Associate Professor Young is now in the process of determining whether rTMS enhances myelin repair in these models compared to the untreated models.

In an important step to be able to use rTMS in people with MS, A/Prof Young has also determined the optimal rTMS method, which has been incorporated into the human rTMS safety clinical trial taking place in Tasmania. It is hoped that if these experiments are successful, rTMS may be used as a therapy to repair existing damage in progressive MS.

This exciting work has helped leverage further funding. A/Prof Young has received funding from the Ian Potter Foundation to purchase two new confocal microscopes that will double imaging capacity. She was also successful in receiving a collaborative National Health and Medical Research Council grant where she will help investigate the mechanism by which myelinating cells die with the aim of designing a treatment. She was one of the recipients of $10 million for the MS Flagship Program from the Medical Research Future Fund. A/Prof Young has also received $16,000 towards the clinical safety assessment of rTMS for the treatment of MS from the Royal Hobart Hospital Research Foundation.

A/Prof Young’s important work was generously supported by The Woodend Foundation.