A 2014 MS Research Australia project grant holds particular promise for
tackling the progressive forms of MS. This is an important area of research,
since there are currently no treatment options for these forms of the disease.
Associate Professor David Brown at the University of NSW, has been awarded
$250,000 over three years, co-funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation, to
investigate a molecule known as MIC-1/GDF15 that appears to play a key role in
regulating cells of the innate immune system.
The innate immune system is generally the ‘first line’ of defence against perceived
threats to the body. It is also involved in longer term clean-up and repair
responses to damage. The attention of many researchers has increasingly been
turning to the role of the innate immune system in MS as it appears to play a
significant role in the ‘slow-burning’ accumulation of myelin and nerve damage
that occurs in progressive forms of MS.
The research program discovered the MIC-1/GDF15 molecule, and as a result
of this research, the molecule is now being developed internationally as a new therapy
for a number of diseases including obesity and inflammation. Preliminary
evidence from his laboratory suggests that MIC-1/GDF15 also modulates the
innate immune system and that it may be an effective treatment for progressive
The focus of this project will be the mechanisms by which MIC-1/GDF15
regulates the cells of the innate immune system, such as dendritic cells and
the microglial cells of the brain. He also aims to use laboratory models of MS
to obtain evidence that MIC-1/GDF15 could be used as a therapeutic agent in
Since MIC-1/GDF15 is about to enter Phase I clinical trials for appetite
suppression, much of the safety work in humans is underway. This means that if
Associate Professor Brown can confirm a role for MIC-1/GDF15 in MS there will
be an exciting opportunity to rapidly progress his experimental results into
direct benefits for people with progressive forms of MS.
With his considerable experience with this molecule and the tools and
methods already developed at the University of NSW, Associate Professor Brown
is well positioned to make rapid progress on this exciting project.