Finding the cause of multiple sclerosis

 home heathcare nurse, who is working on electronic charting, exchanges a smile with her patient.

Murdoch researchers are looking into the molecular pathology behind multiple sclerosis to inform new treatment options that target the cause of the disease.

Approximately 25,000 Australians suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disease, which can cause inflammatory damage in the central nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. 

To date, there is no way of effectively preventing MS, and while current treatments are often effective in keeping MS inactive, these approaches are limited.

Professor Allan Kermode is leading clinical and fundamental research out of the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics (CMMIT) to better understand the pathogenesis of MS to inform new treatments that target the cause of the illness.

 “While existing treatments can modify the immune system and its response, they do not target the fundamental cause of the illness,” explained Professor Kermode.

Our research is aimed at identifying the different pathways that cause MS by dissecting the relationship between the known risk factors associated with the disease.”
The study examines interactions between three major risk factors that contribute to MS including variants in immune related genes, environmental factors such as low sunlight exposure, as well as infection-associated risk factors with MS disease.

“We’re analysing samples from over 2,000 patients in Western Australia, with various conditions of multiple sclerosis, to understand how their MS phenotype is affected by genetic and environmental factors,” said Professor Kermode.

“The project has already helped to identify gene variants associated with both increased and decreased risk in developing MS disease.” 

Professor Kermode explained that while the cause of MS is unknown, the consensus is that it is an inflammatory process.

“There is still much to learn about the genetic risk factors responsible for the regulation of our immune system, and how this contributes to increased risk of MS,” he said.

“One part we’re looking into is the role B cells play in causing MS disease, particularly as this immune cell population is the long-term ‘home’ of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a well-recognised risk factor for MS. 

“For example, our results have shown that MS patients had significantly higher levels of antibodies targeting EBV, further strengthening the evidence that EBV plays in developing MS."

Professor Kermode explains the key to unravelling the mystery behind what causes MS lies in understanding the immune mediated damage in the central nervous system. 

“The next phase of the study will look into inflammatory cells from immediate post-mortem MS lesions, to find the target antigens which induce the immune response common in MS patients,” said Professor Kermode.

“Ultimately, we hope the research will help to predict MS disease severity and symptoms, to inform more personalised treatments for patients, and lead to identification of the causative pathways of the disease.”

Posted on:

4 Aug 2020


Health, Research

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