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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

Creating an environment for
myelin repair


Dr Holly Cate, from the University of Melbourne, was awarded an MS Research Australia project grant in 2014, supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation. This grant funded her work studying how to enhance the ability of the brain to repair MS mediated damage, with the hope of reversing the progression of MS symptoms.

Dr Cate’s focus has been on the repair and recovery of the protective myelin sheath which surrounds the nerve cells in the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves). In people with MS, the immune system attacks and damages this myelin sheath. The damaged nerve sheath then means that the nerve impulses are either blocked or slowed down in the damaged nerves, leading to the physical symptoms of MS.

The process of repairing the myelin sheath is called remyelination, and this process is carried out by specialised cells in the brain called oligodendrocytes. In MS brain lesions there are precursor cells which can become oligodendrocytes. Dr Cate has conducted a series of experiments designed to understand how we can encourage these precursor cells to differentiate into fully functional oligodendrocytes, which then could repair the damaged myelin.

She has discovered that there is protein in the brain, known as BMP4 which blocks these precursor cells from becoming fully functional oligodendrocytes. In further investigations Dr Cate and her colleagues have discovered that this isn’t a direct effect of that protein on the oligodendrocytes but rather due to the protein interacting with astrocytes, another type of support cell found in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. The astrocytes, then in turn, block the oligodendrocytes precursor cells from maturing to form myelin.

This important work is now being carried on by a PhD student, Alistair Cole under the supervision of Dr Simon Murray and Dr Junhua Xiao in the laboratory at the University of Melbourne. The team aim to discover further details of the mechanism by which BMP4 and astrocytes block the formation of oligodendrocytes. If the actions of BMP4 can be blocked, this may allow the development of a novel therapeutic strategy to repair myelin in MS.

Such myelin repair therapies could work alongside traditional MS therapies that suppress the inflammatory attack on myelin to then allow increased myelin repair. This in turn could prevent permanent nerve cell damage in people with MS.  Dr Cate has now completed her work on this project and has moved into another field of science. We are most grateful to Dr Cate for the huge contribution she has made to the field of myelin repair and we look forward to hearing more from Dr Murray and his colleagues as they continue this important work.

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