Research Progress Report
brain and spinal cord damage in Multiple Sclerosis
|The Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation is
currently supporting a talented young PhD student at Monash University in
Melbourne. Mr Jae Young Lee began his doctoral studies in 2013, and over the
past 12 months has made extraordinary progress in his novel work exploring
methods for preventing the degeneration of myelin and nerve fibres in MS.
The protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres, known as
myelin, allows the efficient transmission of electrical nerve impulses. It is
known that MS is initiated by the body’s own immune cells, which mistakenly
attack myelin and nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, preventing the
nerves from transmitting signals.
Supervised by established MS researcher, Dr Steven
Petratos, Mr Lee’s work is using novel analysis approaches to explore whether
the damage to myelin and nerve fibres in MS could be avoided, by targeting a
compound that has been linked with the structural degeneration of nerves.
Dr Petratos and his team recently identified that a
pathway involving a molecule known as the Nogo Receptor (NgR) may be important
in the earliest stages of nerve fibre damage in mice with MS-like disease. They
have shown that blocking this pathway can limit the extent of nerve damage. Mr
Lee’s PhD work has expanded on these findings, showing that blocking the
actions of NgR was also associated with significantly less damage to the myelin
surrounding the nerve fibres in these mice. These findings provide confirmation
that the NgR influences the structure of both nerve fibres and the myelin surrounding
them, and suggests that NgR may be a useful target for future treatment
development in MS, to prevent illness progression and deterioration.
In further exploration of
the role of NgR, Mr Lee and his colleagues have developed genetically modified
mice with MS-like illness that also lack a crucial gene involved in the NgR
pathway, and found that these mice tended to show less severe disease symptoms.
Further study of these mice identified that they may have specific differences
in the structure of their myelin and nerve fibres compared to MS-like mice that
are not lacking this gene.
Over the next two years Mr Lee has ambitious aims for the
remainder of his PhD, and will be using human stem cells in the laboratory to
grow ‘oligodendrocyte progenitor’ cells, which are the parent cells of
myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. This ‘test tube’ system will be used to study
the processes of myelination in greater detail. Mr Lee will be testing whether
these cells could be transplanted into mice with MS-like illness, to encourage
repair and remyelination of damaged brain areas.