on Fellowship to
Dr Rod Lea
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.