Family ties drive the desire
for a cure
By Lisa Burling, LBPR
Dr Steven Petratos is very clear with his response when asked why he is so passionate about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research and his part in the quest of the global scientific community to find a cure.
“I have always promised myself that I will never give up investigating the devastating disease that my grandfather suffered from.”
That sentence links Dr Petratos even more closely with the work of Trish MS Research Foundation, set up by Trish’s parents Carol and Roy Langsford after they made the same promise to their daughter - they wouldn’t give up until a cure was found.
“MS is an insidious neurological disease commonly induced by the specific destruction of the protective sheath of nerve fibres, known as myelin. MS affects approximately 2.5 million people worldwide, with debilitating consequences; currently, the best therapies can only limit relapses in patients, but as these individuals age with the disease, they become vulnerable to progression. I am driven by a desire to provide a better quality of life for people living with MS,” comments Dr Petratos.
The Trish MS Research Foundation is pivotal to Dr Petratos’ latest research project, providing funding at the most critical stage. Supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation in affiliation with MS Research Australia, he is investigating the therapeutic blockade of the neurodegenerative mechanisms that govern progressive MS. In this funded project, Dr Petratos’ team has designed a new stem-cell based therapeutic strategy in an attempt to limit
the progression of MS and enhance repair of the central nervous system.
“With the support of previous MS research funding, we have made great advances in the understanding of why MS can progress to permanent disability. We have since designed specific ways to directly target the disease epicentres where damage occurs to the brain and spinal cord, thereby protecting these areas from further damage and enhancing repair. The Trish MS Research Foundation is now helping my team achieve the proof that this stem-cell based therapeutic approach will indeed limit the progression of MS.”
Dr Petratos’ career in MS research started as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne, where he embarked on an Honours degree and then subsequently a PhD in antibody-mediated demyelination. This then lead into post-doctoral research projects in demyelination and repair of the peripheral and central nervous systems, which has now culminated in his current research interests of regenerative medicine specifically in MS.
“During my early undergraduate University candidature, I was always fascinated in how the immune system interacted with the central nervous system,” he says.
Dr Petratos’ research projects have been supported by a range of credible organisations, including MS Research Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the US, and the Trish MS Research Foundation.
His PhD work on myelin damage in HIV-infected patients was supported by receiving one of only 13 Commonwealth AIDS Research Grants (CARG) from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
His Postdoctoral work in nerve fibre and myelin damage was first supported by a MS Research Australia project grant then followed by an inaugural Trish MS Research Foundation project grant in 2002.
Dr Petratos has since gone on to receive two post-doctoral fellowships from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Science at Monash University, followed by an NHMRC Project grant to investigate neuron damage in brain diseases. These investigations lead him to identify the abnormal modifications of an important neuronal protein called CRMP2 that only occurs during brain disease and is fundamental for the normal function of neurons when unmodified.
Dr Petratos is also a proud member of The International Progressive MS Alliance - an unprecedented international initiative that is connecting resources and experts around the world to find answers and develop solutions to end progressive MS. In fact, Dr Petratos is the sole Australian recipient of funding from The International Progressive MS Alliance, supporting his current project with the Trish MS Research Foundation and MS Research Australia.
“The goal of the Alliance is to speed the development of new treatments for progressive MS by funding the best research, wherever it exists. By establishing global research priorities, the Alliance is poised to speed progress to identify solutions to address this urgent need. Collaboration among all stakeholders in the MS community is a critical element required for our success. Partnership between academia and the pharmaceutical and bio technology industries is essential to meeting the goal of the Alliance as academia provides knowledge generation and industry has the extensive resources and research talent needed to drive large-scale advancements in progressive MS,” Dr Petratos explains.
Unsurprisingly, Dr Petratos has a heavy schedule as Head of the Regenerative Neuroscience & Development Group at Monash University. Although a typical day doesn’t exist, he can often be found discussing findings of recent experiments his PhD students performed, interpreting data, designing future experiments, preparing data for presentation and publication, and discussing collaborative projects with scientists and clinicians in Australia and overseas.
Outside of the laboratory, Dr Petratos likes to spend his spare time with family – wife Andrea and children Elizabeth and Anthony - and friends, enjoying their company and validating how special they are to him.