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Feb 2017
Trish Foundation contributes to first-ever discovery
Jun 2017
Researchers funded by the Trish Foundation making great progress
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The role of vitamin D related genes in MS

Dr Lawrence Ong, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research has been awarded a Betty Cuthbert Postgraduate Scholarship co-funded by MS Research Australia/ National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the MS Research Australia contribution being provided with full funding support from the Trish MS Research Foundation. The Trish Foundation is honoured to be co-funding this important Research Project with the NHMRC. 


·     * It is known that both environmental factors such as vitamin D and genes contribute to an individual’s risk of MS.

·     * Dr Lawrence Ong is investigating the way that vitamin D interacts with vitamin D risk genes within immune cells.

·     * Dr Ong has now completed experiments that look at the way vitamin D controls methylation in MS risk genes and developed ‘methylation maps’ for immune cells known as dendritic cells.

Progress to Date 

Dr Ong has made excellent progress on his research and has now completed the gene sequencing experiments which will allow him to determine the way that vitamin D effects genes within the immune cells using DNA methylation. DNA methylation one way that the activity of genes can be switched on or off in cells and Dr Ong is testing to see whether vitamin D may be able to effect the genes that are related to risk of developing MS. 

To do this, Dr Ong used a technique called modified reduced representation bisulfite sequencing that allowed him to analyse the methylation at all the genes present in the genome at once. As part of this work, Dr Ong also developed and optimised a bioinformatics pipeline specifically for this research project. This work may explain one mechanism whereby vitamin D affects the risk of developing MS through modulation of MS risk genes. 

In new work, Dr Ong has shown that the methylation signature in the cells is transmitted from stem cells to daughter cells. This forms a potential pathway by which environmental exposure to Vitamin D affects the risk of MS.

The methylation maps that Dr Ong has generated for these cells will also serve as a resource for the scientific community to be analysed and compared with other methylation patterns from individuals with disease and also those subject to specific environmental exposures.

Dr Ong presented this research at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in May 2018. As the peak body for clinical immunology in Europe, this congress brings together Clinical Immunologists and Immunology researchers from around the world.

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