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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

Understanding gene activity in

brain tissue

Ms 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.

The 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.

Since 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.

The 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 in MS.

Ms 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.  

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