Understanding gene activity in
Katherine Sanders is an up and coming young researcher who began her PhD in
2014 supported by a MS Research Australia postgraduate scholarship funded by
the Trish MS Research Foundation. Her PhD project is looking at molecular
profiles of cells that control activity levels of different genes. Ms Sanders
is jointly supervised by Associate Professor Lotti Tajouri from Bond University
Queensland and Associate Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott and Professor Rodney
Scott from the Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle.
project is specifically exploring the role of microRNAs (miRNA) in MS. In recent years, miRNA has been recognised
as an important way that genes are regulated and controlled. Our genes are
encoded in DNA, but RNA is essentially a chemical copy of DNA that acts as an
intermediate step in the process of ‘reading’ the DNA code in cells. Most RNA
molecules contribute to the building of the proteins that form the components
in the cell’s machinery. However, miRNAs are small fragments of RNA that play a
role in regulating the activity of genes – helping to switch genes on or off.
miRNA function differs between cell types, Ms Sanders is looking directly at
the miRNA profile in MS lesions taken from the brain tissue of people with MS,
something that has only been done in a limited capacity before. Since miRNA
molecules are remarkably stable, there is great potential for them to be used
as markers to diagnose and predict disease outcome in MS.
In the first stage of
this project, Ms Sanders has looked at miRNA taken from specific immune cells
of people with secondary progressive MS and compared them to healthy controls.
Within these immune cells, Ms Sanders has identified several specific miRNAs
that have altered activity in MS. This includes a number of miRNA that target a
gene involved in regulating the immune system activity.
second stage of the project is working to determine the miRNA signature within
brain tissue from people with MS. This project has received tissue samples from
the MS Research Australia Brain Bank, which shall be used for the miRNA
profiling. These tissues are from secondary progressive MS individuals and
therefore are able to be compared to the miRNA profiles Ms Sanders identified
in immune cells. During 2015 Ms Sanders conducted highly complex work to
generate miRNA profiles of white matter brain tissue using specialised gene
technology. For the remainder of 2016 she will be undertaking detailed analysis
of these profiles. As part of these analyses, Ms Sanders will conduct
experiments to determine the functional role of the miRNA that are dysregulated
Sanders has had a very productive start to her postgraduate studies. She has
submitted a manuscript for publication describing her earlier findings showing
altered miRNA activity in immune cells, and during 2015 also presented her
findings at four international conferences.