Grant’s encouraging progress
Professor Heinrich Körner and Professor Bruce Taylor of the Menzies
Institute for Medical Research, Tasmania, were awarded a MS Research Australia
incubator grant with the support of the Trish Foundation for MS Research in
Their goal was to look at whether variations in the vitamin D processing
genes change the way the T-cells of the immune system are activated in people
Low vitamin D levels are a known risk factor for MS and variations in the
genes that process vitamin D have also been identified among the 100 genetic
variations recently identified as increasing susceptibility to MS. However,
very little is known about exactly how these genetic variations change the
biology and function of immune cells in a way that can lead to MS.
Over the last year, Professors Körner and Taylor, have been identifying
people with MS and healthy individuals who carry a specific variation in one of
the genes involved in vitamin D processing in the body. They have collected
blood samples from these people and have successfully grown the T-cells from
these blood samples in dishes in the laboratory.
By activating an immune response in the T-cells in the dish, in the
presence of vitamin D, the team have 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.
It is still early days in this project and the team need to collect more
blood samples to ensure that the difference they are seeing is a real effect
and can be shown to be statistically significant. However, this is very
encouraging progress, and the team are confident that by the end of the year
they will have some exciting results to share.
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.