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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
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Jun 2018
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New Research Projects commencing 2019 announced

Progress Report on Fellowship to
Dr Rod Lea  

Establishing a new bioinformatics service for Australian MS researchers  

In 2013 the Trish Foundation for MS Research funded a specialised new Fellowship, which was awarded to Dr Rod Lea who is working with Associate Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott at the Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle, NSW in collaboration with two of MS Research Australia’s major research platforms.  

Dr Lea is a bioinformatician – a specialised multidisciplinary scientist trained in biology, computational techniques and information theory. Bioinformaticians provide crucial analysis expertise for large datasets, such as those generated in whole genome or proteome analyses (assessing the entire profile of genes or proteins contained in an organism). The specialised mathematical techniques used by bioinformaticians can reveal hidden patterns in large volumes of complex data.  

The MS Research Australia ANZgene and Proteomics Platforms have been very successful national collaborations running over a number of years. In particular, ANZgene, to which the Trish Foundation contributed, has contributed enormously to an international collaboration that collected genetic data for people with MS around the world, and  revealed more than 100 genes that appear to increase susceptibility to MS. The proteomics platform has also analysed the many thousands of proteins in the brain and immune system that may contribute to MS and identified a number of key proteins that may be important for diagnosis and targeting new therapies.

With these significant achievements under their belts, both platforms now need to take this research to the next level, and to do so, they require bioinformatics expertise to more deeply explore the enormous amounts of data and answer further questions about the biology of MS.

Dr Lea has undertaken major analyses of the ANZgene and Proteomics data, and also established a dedicated ANZGene data storage and management system which allows genetic and clinical data to be efficiently linked and analysed.

Dr Lea has assisted Dr Ben Crossett from Sydney University, and Trish Foundation-funded researcher Dr Linda Ly, with the analysis of proteomics data derived from MS brain lesions. Dr Lea’s expertise allowed him to develop new methods to sensitively and accurately calculate the abundance of proteins found in different types of MS lesions. Comparing different lesion types for a panel of 254 proteins resulted in a short-list of 18 proteins associated with the areas of tissue that lie just on the edge of chronic lesions. Importantly, the proteins identified are known to be key proteins involved in myelin formation and maintenance.  

Working with the ANZGene data Dr Lea has been analysing information on the chemical markers that help regulate gene activity in different cells. These methylation markers vary in different types of immune cells and can reveal detailed information about how genetic and environmental factors interact to increase susceptibility to developing MS. This analysis of the methylation data from people with MS compared with healthy individuals revealed convincing evidence for lower levels of methylation in people with MS particularly in one immune-related gene.   

The analysis techniques that Dr Lea has specifically developed in these collaborative projects will now be available to other researchers wishing to conduct similar analyses on other datasets.  

Dr Lea is continuing to work on a number of other projects utilising the ANZGene data including the interaction of genetic risk factors with gender in susceptibility to MS, and we look forward to further revealing insights into the complex biology of MS.  

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