Professor Pender working towards
a new treatment for
Michael Pender from the University of Queensland continues to make excellent
progress in his research project looking at the role of Epstein Barr Virus
(EBV) in MS. Professor Pender’s project is running over three years and is
supported by Foundation 5 Million Plus and The Trish MS Research Foundation.
A large body of
evidence indicates that infection with EBV has a key role in MS. EBV is the glandular fever virus and exposure is very common, with EBV infecting
around 95% of all adults, but over 99% of people with MS. Although it is
usually well controlled by a person’s immune system, it is not fully cleared
and EBV remains within immune cells in a resting state.
his research, Professor Pender has shown 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 is investigating
specific immune cells involved with the response to EBV infection known as CD8
Pender has completed a large amount of work on this project, including showing
that the CD8 T cells are deficient in people with MS and that this is due to a
reduced number of CD8 memory T cells. These cell types retain a memory of
foreign infections that they have ‘seen’ before and can immediately mount a
response to clear infected cells. Further work in people at the earliest stages
of MS, those with clinically isolated syndrome, showed that these people also
had this cellular deficiency – suggesting it may be a cause rather than an
outcome of disease processes.
Most excitingly, this work laid the foundation
for an experimental treatment trial in a single person with secondary
progressive MS in 2014. The treatment was based on the use of with CD8 cells
primed to recognise EBV. The therapy had no adverse effects and the patient
showed clinical improvement with reduced disease activity.
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 planning to undertake a phase I clinical trial to test the
safety of this therapy in a small group of people.
work at the laboratory bench will investigate the relationship between MS and
different phases of EBV infection as well as the immune response to EBV
infection in people with MS. This detailed characterisation of EBV in MS can
only assist with the success of the ongoing clinical studies. We await his
further results with great interest.