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New funding to advance innovative multiple sclerosis research

02/04/24 - MS is a debilitating and progressive condition where a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord. More than 33,000 Australians currently live with the disease, for which there is currently no cure. 


Dr Stephanie Trend (from The University of Western Australia’s Medical School, an Honorary Research Associate at the Telethon Kids Institute and an MSWA Research Fellow at the Perron Institute), will lead a team in investigating the way B cells, a type of immune cell, react to perceived threats, and how this may in turn activate MS. 


“We know that B cells play an important role in causing attacks of MS because there are some very good MS treatments that work by removing these cells from the blood,” Dr Trend said. 

“B cells can become activated when they detect threats, like viruses or bacteria, to cause immune responses. Unfortunately, sometimes our B cells mistakenly attack parts of our own body, resulting in autoimmune diseases.” 


Now, thanks to a three-year, $249,530 grant from MS Australia, a team led by Dr Trend will work to better understand how and why B cells are being unnecessarily spurred into action. 

“Identifying the triggers that have activated B cells in people with MS may help to diagnose the condition earlier, identify people who might be at higher risk of developing MS, or develop better therapies to be used in the future,” Dr Trend said. 


Dr Trend’s co-investigators on the project include Dr Tao Wang and Dr Jonathan Leffler from Telethon Kids Institute, Emeritus Professor Martyn French from UWA, and Professor Allan Kermode from the Perron Institute and UWA. 


A $25,000 incubator grant has been awarded to Dr Belinda Kaskow, (Perron Institute, UWA and the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics at Murdoch University), who will lead a team investigating the role played in MS by immune system proteins known as killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs). 


“These proteins, found on certain immune cells, are crucial for controlling immune responses because they act as ‘gatekeepers’ in controlling how the immune system responds to threats,” Dr Kaskow said. 


“In MS, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord, understanding how KIRs work could help us figure out why this happens and how to stop it.” 


Dr Kaskow said the KIR ‘family’ was highly complex and different among individuals which had made the proteins challenging to study, however recent advances in technology meant scientists were now able to analyse them across multiple levels and compare them in people with MS and those without. 


Co-investigators on the project include Professor Allan Kermode from UWA and the Perron Institute, Associate Professor Silvana Gaudieri and Eric Alves from UWA, and Dr Pooja Deshpande and Milan Pietracatella from UWA and the Perron Institute. 


The grants are two of 17 new research grants totalling more than $4.5 million, awarded to cutting edge projects across the country by MS Australia as part of its latest major funding round. The grants range from one-year innovative studies to five-year senior fellowships. 

MS Australia CEO Rohan Greenland said the significant investment in MS research demonstrated the organisation’s ambitious approach to combat the disease. “These research projects ensure we’re not merely seeking answers, we’re actively pursuing them,” Mr Greenland said.  


L-R Dr Belinda Kaskow and Dr Stephanie Trend.

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Sending you prayers, I was diagnosed in 2010 and seemed to go down hill quickly. In six years I could no longer work and had real problems with balance and joint pain. Brain fog was really bad sometimes. I took rebif and had a lot of problems and had to quit. I have been on techfadera (not spelled right) for a few years and have several side effects. I felt lost and decided to quit my meds due to side effects. Our care provider introduced me to Ayurvedic treatment. I had a total decline of all symptoms including vision problems, numbness and others. Sometimes, i totally forget i ever had MS. Visit Natural Herbs Centre web-site naturalherbscentre. com. I am…

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