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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

Profiling patient-specific stem cells

Currently, much research is ongoing into the potential uses of stem cells for treating or reversing aspects of MS disease. However these stem cells are typically mature stem cells derived from bone marrow or fatty tissue, that have limited capacity to specialise into other types of cells. In recent years, research has created a new type of stem cell, which allows normal adult cells to be reprogrammed into the earliest type of stem cell, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are similar to cells found in a developing embryo.

Dr Natalie Payne, working with Professor Claude Bernard and his team at Monash University, were the first group to derive iPSCs from people with MS. They have since shown that these cells have the ability to specialise (differentiate) into neural stem cells and the precursors of nerve cells. This triggered an enormous global research effort, as these cells provide a unique opportunity to study the unique aspects of the MS disease process in human cells, as well as opening the door to understanding how stem cells might contribute to repair and regeneration for people with MS.

Dr Payne received a MS Research Australia Incubator Grant in 2015, supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation, to study iPSCs derived from people with MS. Dr Payne’s project aimed to perform extensive molecular profiling of these iPSC cells to understand more about the genes that are expressed at each stage of development, and see how the developmental processes differ between cells from people with MS and cells from healthy individuals. This will provide clues into whether MS risk can be identified much earlier in individuals, and help to differentiate between the roles of genes and the environment in the development of MS.

In this project, Dr Payne studied skin cells from MS patients and their unaffected siblings. The skin cells were converted into iPSCs, and these were manipulated to develop into neural stem cells (the precursors of mature brain cells) and mature nerve cells.

Dr Payne and colleagues performed extensive molecular profiling to compare the original skin cells, the iPSCs, neural stem cells, and nerve cells from people with MS and their healthy siblings. This was in order to identify any differences in the structure or function of these cells that might be relevant to the development of MS, or to their use in other applications such as cell therapy. These analyses found that structurally these cells are all very similar but the researchers found some important differences in genes that are active at higher levels in neural stem cells compared to iPSCs, that may be important for the development of MS. This molecular profiling has allowed the researchers to identify some potential ways that stem cells may be used dampen inflammation and promote repair in MS.

The solid results obtained during the course of this Incubator Grant will underpin strong applications for further funding to pursue the therapeutic potential of these stem cells and the team also plan to extend on these findings by collaborating with international researchers who are also active in this field.  

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