Making Vitamin D work for MS

In January 2020 Dr Grant Parnell was awarded a Project Grant over three years fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation, his Co-Investigator being Professor David Booth.

Dr Parnell’s Research Project, ‘Defining how vitamin D promotes tolerogenic dendritic cells to enable its use in combined therapy’, looks at making Vitamin D work for MS.

The aim of the project is to better understand the vitamin D response pathway in immune cells, especially 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 or not of supplementation.

In the first 12 months of this project, Dr Parnell has performed experiments where he treated a particular type of immune cell, dendritic cells, with vitamin D and measured the response to this treatment using multiple next generation sequencing approaches. This enabled Dr Parnell and his team to identify which genes are being activated or suppressed in response to vitamin D. Initial results are showing that vitamin D reduces expression of genes that are known to be involved in inflammation and helps keep the dendritic cells in a suppressed state. Initial experiments have also been performed where they are treating these cells with vitamin D in conjunction with a secondary agent which has previously been shown to enhance the response to vitamin D in a non-immune cell type. Dr Parnell and his team are still in the process of fully characterising the response of dendritic cells to this secondary treatment. They are also planning additional experiments to target the vitamin D response pathway in ways that bypass the current homeostatic bottleneck observed with response to oral vitamin D supplementation.

The findings of Dr Parnell’s research will provide solid foundations and preliminary data for an NHMRC Ideas Grant and Investigator Grant planned for submission in 2022.