What role do natural killer cells play in MS?

The Trish Foundation contributed to a three-year MS Research Australia Project Grant awarded to Dr Fiona McKay which commenced in 2018.

Dr McKay and her team have developed a test to characterise and compare different subsets of natural killer (NK) cells. This technique involves passing the cells past a laser that allows them to detect over 21 different properties of the cells and they have used this to characterise 75 blood samples (39 samples from people with MS and 36 samples from people without MS). Dr McKay and her team have also developed a pipeline to analyse the results of this and have found that there is a subset of NK cells that are different in people with MS compared to people without MS. They are continuing to analyse the results to determine if there are more differences in NK cells between people with MS and without MS. Findings from this could potentially be used as targets for new MS treatments.

They have also generated a system using cells grown in the laboratory to examine Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infection of B cells. This virus plays an important role in the development of MS, but the exact mechanisms by which it influences susceptibility to MS remains unclear. Dr McKay and her team will use this system to see whether NK cells from people with and without MS can effectively kill B cells that are infected with EBV, and whether this might be a mechanism by which EBV plays a role in MS.

They will then use drugs to try and bolster the ability of NK cells to kill EBV-infected cells and see whether this will improve the capacity of NK cells from people with MS to kill EBV-infected cells, or autoimmune cells.

Dr McKay and her team have also developed collaborations as a result of this work, and the findings have been presented at national and international conferences. A manuscript is currently in preparation for publication.