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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
Dr Merson secures $1 million from NHMRC
Jun 2018
Findings submitted for publication
Jan 2019
New Research Projects commencing 2019 announced

Immune control of Epstein-Barr

virus in MS


Professor Michael Pender at the University of Queensland has for many years been researching the relationship between the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) and the immune system, and its role in MS. In 2013, Professor Pender and his colleague Professor Scott Burrows received a three year project grant from MS Research Australia, in partnership with the Trish MS Research Foundation and Foundation 5 Million Plus to continue these investigations. This project grant has recently concluded and the researchers have achieved impressive outcomes from their research into EBV and MS.  

There is a large body of evidence from both Australian and international research indicating that infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may play a role in the cause of MS. Around 95% of all adults have evidence of a previous EBV infection, however, at least 99% of people with MS have had EBV.

Professor Pender previously showed that people with MS have decreased immunity to EBV which could allow the accumulation of EBV-infected cells in the brain, and the subsequent development of MS. This project aimed to build on these earlier findings to look at specific immune cells involved with the response to EBV infection, known as CD8 T cells.   

In the first stage of this project Professor Pender showed that the deficiency in CD8 T cells in people with MS is specifically due to reduced numbers of a sub-group of CD8 T Cells called CD8 effector memory T cells. These cell types retain a memory of pathogens that they have ‘seen’ before and can immediately mount a response to clear infected cells.  

Professor Pender then examined blood samples from people with all forms of MS including the earliest signs of MS, known as Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS). He found that decreased immunity to EBV is present in all of these stages and types of the disease, including the very early CIS stage, suggesting that EBV may be related to the causes, rather than a consequence, of MS.  

Over the three year project, Professor Pender has made great progress into teasing apart the mechanisms by which immune deficiency may lead to inadequate control of EBV infection, and how this may lead to MS. He found that people with MS showed differences in the response to both the active and latent forms of EBV. He has also shown that other T cell types are decreased over the course of disease, contributing to overall T cell exhaustion. Professor Pender also reported that EBV specific CD8 T cells were not influenced by several known MS risk genes.   

Professor Pender’s work over the last decade has been highly successful and has yielded important new insights into how and why the immune system fails to control EBV infection in people with MS. These findings are vitally important for the development of new therapies aimed at preventing and treating MS by controlling EBV infection. An exciting development in this direction was revealed when Professor Pender and his colleagues published the promising results for a patient with secondary progressive MS who was treated with CD8 cells primed to recognise EBV. This is the first time that this type of therapy, known as adoptive immunotherapy, has been used to treat MS or any other autoimmune disease. Professor Pender and colleagues are now conducting a phase I clinical trial to test the safety of EBV specific T cell therapy in a very small group of people with progressive MS.

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