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Feb 2017
Trish Foundation contributes to first-ever discovery
Jun 2017
Researchers funded by the Trish Foundation making great progress
Dec 2017
Announcement by NHMRC
Jan 2018
2018 Round of Funding Four new Projects announced
Jun 2018
Exciting regrowth of nerve fibres
Jun 2018
Dr Merson secures $1 million from NHMRC
Jun 2018
Findings submitted for publication
Jan 2019
New Research Projects commencing 2019 announced

2012 Progress Report Christopher Siatskas  

Dr Christopher Siatskas, of Monash University, was awarded a project grant in 2011, supported by the Trish Foundation to examine novel treatments combining immune regeneration and gene therapy approaches.  

A rational approach for the treatment and cure of autoimmune diseases such as MS requires incorporation of three fundamental processes: suppression of the inflammatory response, restoration of self-tolerance and regeneration of the target cells or tissues. Current clinical practice at best addresses the first problem but there are no clear strategies for the other two.  To overcome this, new therapies are desperately needed.  

Dr Siatskas has previously established a method of suppressing the inflammatory response to tackle the first problem. This method was able to reduce clinical symptoms in a laboratory model of MS. Dr Siatskas is now investigating a new approach to the second problem - restoring self-tolerance. His approach uses a gene therapy method that directly targets the self-reacting cells in the thymus. The thymus is the organ where immune cells are trained to recognize the difference between ‘self’ cells and dangerous cells. Targeting treatment to the thymus could prevent the release into the bloodstream of the rogue immune cells that attack the ‘self’.  

Dr Siatskas showed that treatment in the thymus prior to the onset of the disease reduced inflammation and neurological damage. He is also investigating what happens when treatment is started after clinical symptoms begin. These experiments are important since they will more accurately mirror the treatment situation seen in people with MS. While these experiments showed a slowing of symptoms, they were not a cure, since some rogue immune cells had already entered the bloodstream prior to treatment.  

These results are an excellent first step since they show retraining at the thymus to restore self-tolerance is possible. They also show that treatment strategies to specifically target the rogue immune cells circulating in the bloodstream will also be required.

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