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Feb 2017
Trish Foundation contributes to first-ever discovery
Jun 2017
Researchers funded by the Trish Foundation making great progress
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New Research Projects commencing 2019 announced

MS experts turn attention on NMO

In 2011, Dr Mark Slee of Flinders University, Adelaide, received a grant to study the antibodies involved in the MS sister disease, neuromyelitis optica (NMO).

The MSRA incubator grant, supported by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation, has enabled Dr Slee and his colleagues to document and study one of the largest cohorts of NMO cases available internationally.

NMO is a severe inflammatory disease of the nervous system affecting mainly the spinal cord and eye (optic) nerves. It has been recognised as a distinct variant of MS for over 130 years. Despite this long history, there is still a great deal to learn about NMO. There are also very few treatment options for people diagnosed with NMO, as they do not respond to the available MS therapies. This makes its correct diagnosis even more crucial.

The recent discovery of a potential biomarker in cases of NMO has been an important development in understanding and managing the disease.

The biomarker is an ‘auto-antibody’ that recognises a water channel in the support cells of the brain known as astrocytes. The discovery provides an important clue to the development of the disease, suggesting that one of the first events may be a mis-directed immune response to astrocytes.

In this project, Dr Slee and his colleagues from around Australia and New Zealand aimed to determine the importance of this biomarker in NMO diagnosis. The team is investigating how accurately it can distinguish between people who have typical MS, typical NMO, NMO spectrum disease and people without any medical disorders.

To date, they have collected nearly 150 cases of patients with NMO, NMO spectrum disease and matched classical MS. The collection includes detailed clinical data, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and serum collected for each individual.

The team is now analysing this information as well as testing the assay to be used for antibody detection. The assay is currently being assessed at an Australian reference laboratory and will also be sent for independent testing at Prof Angela Vincent’s laboratory at the University of Oxford for final testing. Prof Vincent is an expert in this field and her laboratory is an international referral centre for the measurement of antibodies in neurological disorders.

This NMO antibody study is part of a large collaboration across Australia and New Zealand which has now received a major MSRA project grant. The team will examine the incidence, prevalence and characteristics of NMO in the population. The neurologists and neuroscientists involved all have a special interest in MS and NMO. Many of them have previously had a pivotal role in the incredibly successful ANZgene collaboration that identified a number of key genetic variations that predispose people to developing MS.

The considerable number of samples collected is a credit both to the researchers and the willingness and support of the MS community to be involved in this research.

This will be one of the most comprehensive studies of the sensitivity and specificity of a biomarker for NMO yet undertaken. Together with the larger study it will greatly improve our understanding of both NMO and MS.  

Trish Foundation & MS Research Australia Working together to find a cure for MS
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