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Breakthrough study shows great promise

Further Progress Report - Dr Ben Emery

In 2010 Dr Ben Emery was awarded an MSRA project grant supported by the Trish Foundation to understand the mechanisms that control myelination in the central nervous system (CNS).  

Dr Emery is an up and coming young research leader working in the supportive and stimulating research environment of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Neuroscience. In March 2012, he was awarded the A.W. Campbell Award, which is granted to the best contribution by a member of Australian Neuroscience Society in their first five postdoctoral years.  

In this project Dr Emery has been investigating the factors that promote the development and regeneration of myelin. Myelin is the insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibres and allows the effective transmission of nerve signals. Loss of myelin and death of oligodendrocytes, the cells that make myelin in the CNS, are key features in MS. The CNS does show some ability to generate new oligodendrocytes and remyelinate in MS, however, the process is often incomplete. Identifying the genes that promote myelination has great potential to lead to therapeutic strategies to improve myelin repair in MS.  

Dr Emery’s work centres around a gene (Myelin Gene Regulatory Factor, or MRF) which was previously discovered by his research group. MRF appears to coordinate the myelination process. Dr Emery and his team showed this gene was required for the formation of myelin during development. When it is absent in mice, the oligodendrocytes are unable to form myelin, leading to severe neurological dysfunction. Conversely, turning this gene on appears to promote the myelination process.

'These results are highly exciting,' said Dr Emery 'suggesting we have identified a major regulator of the myelination process'.  

New work has also shown that MRF has a critical role maintaining the myelin in the adult nervous system. In addition, Dr Emery has found that MRF has a vital role in promoting remyelination, the process that repairs myelin damage in MS. MRF is required in order for remyelination to successfully proceed. Promoting remyelination is an important therapeutic strategy since the lack of remyelination contributes to the ongoing loss of function. Future work will focus on whether modulation of MRF may be a viable strategy to improve the efficiency of the remyelination process.

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