The vitamin D response pathway

The Trish Foundation is currently funding Dr Grant Parnell’s research titled, “Defining how vitamin D promotes tolerogenic dendritic cells to enable its use in combined therapy”.  The research is being carried out at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research / The University of Sydney.

The aim of this 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.

To date in this project, we have performed experiments where we 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 us to identify which genes are being activated or suppressed in response to vitamin D. Our 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. We have also performed initial experiments where we 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. We are still in the process of fully characterising the response of dendritic cells to this secondary treatment. We 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.

2021 saw significant disruption to the progress of this work. Many of our experiments require 2-week cell cultures and subsequent down stream processing. For a large proportion of the year we were either on alert for a potential shutdown of WIMR (where the lab is based) or prevented from attending WIMR. We are therefore intending to request a 12 month extension of the duration of this Grant to enable us to make up for the time lost due to the COVID-19 disruptions. Whilst some level of disruption persists (eg isolations if testing positive or symptomatic), we have now returned to the lab without restrictions and are making good progress with the project.

A revised completion date for Dr Parnell’s Project to 30 December 2023 has been approved.

In August 2021 Dr Parnell was successful in obtaining a full time continuing position as a lecturer at the University of Sydney, with 40% of his time dedicated to research.  This will enable Dr Parnell to continue in MS research for many years to come, as well as contribute to the education of the next generation of medical researchers.  Dr Parnell has a great team working with him to keep the research progressing and is looking to recruit some additional research staff now that work is returning to the new normal.

We look forward to Dr Parnell and his team making additional progress with this important research.