New funding to advance multiple sclerosis research

Multiple sclerosis is on the rise in Australia and worldwide at an accelerating rate, with more than 33,000 Australians currently diagnosed with the condition, for which there is no cure.

New funding to advance multiple sclerosis research

First published by The University of Western Australia

Researchers from The University of Western Australia will use cutting-edge technology to unlock vital insights into the immune system’s role in multiple sclerosis (MS), potentially paving the way for improved therapies and better outcomes for those living with the condition.

"In MS, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord, understanding how KIRs work could help us figure out why this happens and how to stop it."
Dr Belinda Kaskow

MS, a debilitating and progressive condition where a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord, is the most commonly acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults.

Alarmingly, it is on the rise in Australia and worldwide at an accelerating rate, with more than 33,000 Australians currently diagnosed with the condition, for which there is no cure.

Dr Belinda Kaskow, a teaching and research fellow at UWA’s School of Biomedical Sciences and Adjunct Research Fellow at UWA Medical School and Centre for Neuromuscular and Neurological Disorders at the Perron Institute, will lead a team in investigating the role played in MS by immune system proteins known as Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIRs).

“These proteins, found on certain immune cells, are crucial for controlling immune responses because they act as ‘gatekeepers’ in controlling how the immune system responds to threats,” Dr Kaskow said.

“In MS, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord, understanding how KIRs work could help us figure out why this happens and how to stop it.”

Dr Kaskow said the KIR ‘family’ was highly complex and different among individuals which had made the proteins challenging to study, however recent advances in technology meant scientists were now able to analyse them across multiple levels and compare them in people with MS and those without.

Co-investigators on the project include Professor Allan Kermode from UWA and the Perron Institute and Associate Professor Silvana Gaudieri, Dr Pooja Deshpande, Eric Alves and Milan Pietracatella from UWA.

The team’s $25,000 incubator funding is one of 17 new research grants totalling more than $4.5 million, awarded to projects across the country by MS Australia as part of its latest major funding round. 

Dr Stephanie Trend from the UWA Medical School, an Honorary Research Associate at the Telethon Kids Institute and MSWA Research Fellow at the Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science, will also use a $249,530 grant from MS Australia to better understand how and why B cells, a type of immune cell, react to perceived threats, and how this may in turn activate MS.

Dr Trend’s co-investigators on the three-year project include Dr Tao Wang and Dr Jonathan Leffler from Telethon Kids Institute, Emeritus Professor Martyn French from UWA, and Professor Allan Kermode.

MS Australia CEO Rohan Greenland said the significant investment in MS research demonstrated the organisation's ambitious approach to combat the disease.

For more information on MS Australia and the 2024 round of funded research projects, see here.

Media references

Liz McGrath, UWA Media Advisor, 08 6488 7975