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Jun 2014
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Breakthrough study shows great promise

How do changes in vitamin D genes

affect the immune system

 

It is well recognised that variations in genes within the vitamin D pathway have been implicated in MS risk, and many people with MS have been shown to have vitamin D deficiency. However, the mechanisms by which vitamin D may affect the immune system are not clear.  

Professor Heinrich Körner and Professor Bruce Taylor at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research were awarded a one-year incubator grant in 2015, supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation, to investigate whether known MS risk genes involved in the Vitamin D pathway may be able to influence the function of T cells in the immune system.  

Professor Körner’s project looked at the effects of variations in the genetic code of MS risk genes in the vitamin D pathway, and how these changes might alter the function of T cells, the immune cells thought to play a major role in the inflammation that is characteristic of MS.  

Professor Körner and his team collected blood samples from people with MS and extracted immune cells for further study. By activating T-cells in the laboratory in the presence or absence of vitamin D, the researchers were looking for differences in the way the T-cells from people with the risk gene responded, when compared to T-cells from people without the risk gene. The team has been able to see distinct differences in the way the T-cells from people with the genetic variation respond when compared with T-cells from people with the ‘healthy’ version of the gene.  

To confirm these findings delve deeper into what is happening the team are now collecting more blood samples and will separate the T-cells into their different subtypes to test exactly which type of T-cell is responding to vitamin D and in which sub-types of immune cells the genetic variations have the most influence on function.  

These results will shed vital light on exactly how and why the immune system malfunctions in MS, providing clear direction on how we might restore healthy immune function and stop the disease.  

The team have secured a further small grant from MS Research Australia in 2016 to continue this work and are putting the pilot data together to support a major application to the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2017.

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