Reprogramming the immune
Dr Christopher Siatskas is developing new
treatments for MS by combining immune regeneration and gene therapy approaches.
Dr Christopher Siatskas, based at Monash
University, was awarded a project grant in 2011 supported by the Trish MS
Research Foundation. His research aims to do nothing less than permanently
eliminate the rogue immune cells which cause the damage in MS. Due to
mis-programming at the start of their development in the thymus, these immune
cells mistakenly attack myelin proteins in the brain and spinal cord. Dr Siatskas
plans to reprogram these cells at this early stage in their life-cycle using
gene therapy to stop the autoimmune attack.
Earlier work in this project showed that treatment in the thymus prior
to the onset of the disease reduced inflammation and neurological damage.
However, testing the approach after clinical symptoms began, as would be the
case in humans with MS, slowed symptoms but did not cure disease. Recently, Dr
Siatskas completed testing with two different immune target molecules in an
attempt to improve the effect on immune cells. While one had only a mild
effect, the other was able to suppress disease significantly – after symptoms
The most important aspect of the work is that it shows that retraining
the immune mechanisms is possible, even once the disease process has begun -
the ideal model for the treatment situation seen in people with MS. It has also
provided Dr Siatskas and his team with a platform to examine a range of immune
target molecules with his gene therapy approach.