Postgraduate Research Scholarship

Commencing January 2020, Dr Vivien Li, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health Victoria, was awarded a Postgraduate Research Scholarship over three years funded by the NHMRC with ‘top up’ funding by the Trish MS Research Foundation. The aim of the Project, titled “Towards developing dendritic cell therapy for multiple sclerosis based on promoting Mertk signalling”, is to study ways to dampen down the abnormal immune activation, which will hopefully lead to new ways of combatting MS.

MS is a condition resulting from damage to myelin, the insulating covering around nerve cells. It occurs when the immune system, which normally fights infections, starts to attack myelin. The immune system can be activated after exposure to certain biochemical signals. Current treatments mainly target cells in the activated immune system that directly attack nerve cells, but can suppress the immune response generally. A more potent approach may be to prevent and dampen down stimulation of the immune system. This could be achieved by giving the immune system an inhibitory rather than activating signal.

Despite not being able to begin laboratory work until 1 July 2020 and for a further 3.5 months, laboratory access being reduced to 30% of normal hours to date, Dr Li has made good progress, including collection of blood samples from patients with MS; exploring the effects of tolerogenic factors dexamethasone and vitamin D3 on expression of Mertk and other cell surface markers on dendritic cells; testing different protocols, including serum-free conditions for differentiation of monocytes into dendritic cells with good viability have the morphology of and that express known markers of dendritic cells; and verifying a protocol for efficient isolation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from whole blood.

We look forward to learning of additional progress as Dr Li’s impressive work continues.