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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

Professor Pender working towards
a new treatment for progressive MS

Professor 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.

In 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 T cells.

Professor 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.

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 planning to undertake a phase I clinical trial to test the safety of this therapy in a small group of people.

Future 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.

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