Generous support contributes
In September 2016, with very generous support from guests at the Trish MS Black and White Ball, who made generous contributions, an MS Research Australia Incubator Grant was approved, fully funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation.
The Incubator Grant was awarded to Dr Ben Gu, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health, Victoria. Dr Gu’s Co-Investigators were Professor James Wiley, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health, Victoria, Associate Professor Mark Slee, Flinders University, SA and Ms Malgorzata Krupa, Flinders University, SA.
Myelin functions much like insulation on electric cables. It coats cells in the brain and spinal cord and allows electrical signals to travel along the fibre efficiently and accurately. In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath leading to the relapses and symptoms that are associated with the disease.
Microvesicles are tiny particles that bud off cells that are circulating in the blood. They have been shown to interact with the immune system and Dr Ben Gu is investigating their function and how they might play a role in MS.
Dr Gu has previously shown that people with MS have a higher number of microvesicles in their blood and this project aimed to determine which cells in the blood these microvesicles come from.
Dr Gu and his team developed a way to separate the cells most likely to produce the microvesicles from the other cells in the blood. The team was then able to stimulate microvesicle release from these cells in the laboratory.
Dr Gu now plans to further investigate the function of these microvesicles. His team will determine what chemicals are contained within the microvesicles, and determine if these chemicals are different in people with MS compared to those without the disease. His team also plans to determine if and how these microvesicles can disrupt the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier helps to protect the brain and spinal cord, allowing only helpful nutrients and supporting cells and molecules through while largely keeping the immune system out. Disruption of this barrier is an essential step in the development of MS.
Analysis of their results has revealed some exciting findings which potentially provide clues about the cause of MS relapses from a completely new angle. Currently, Dr Gu and his co-investigator Professor James Wiley are collaborating with clinicians and researchers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to further investigate this finding in blood samples from patients with relapsing MS at the time of a relapse and three months after. Professor Wiley presented some of the early findings in the MS Research Australia meeting in Sydney in October and they have major project grant applications pending with MS Research Australia and the NHMRC.