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MS research projects target the research priorities identified by the MS community in Australia

28 February 2024

  • MS Australia has funded over $4.5 million towards MS research grants commencing in 2024.
  • The seventeen new projects address MS Australia’s priorities for MS research, including causes and prevention, better treatments and cures via repair and regeneration of cells.
  • The grants focus on various areas within these themes, such as genomics in progressive MS, treatments for better sleep, diet and lifestyle changes, the complexities of immune cells in MS, and harnessing new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to manage MS.

Seventeen new projects, ranging from one-year innovative studies to major five-year senior fellowships, have received grant funding from MS Australia in 2024.

Among the grants awarded include Project Grants and Incubator Grants, which provide funding towards research projects, as well as Postdoctoral Fellowships and Postgraduate Fellowships that help support and grow the Australian MS research workforce and promote global collaborations to stop MS in its tracks.

MS Australia has also awarded two Senior Fellowships and a Paired Fellowship. Senior Fellowships are awarded to established MS researchers who are leaders in the MS research community, providing security and funding support for these individuals to guide and develop their research teams.

Paired Fellowships provide funding towards a Senior Research Fellow and the research time for a Clinical Fellow to collaborate on a shared program of research that will accelerate the translation of research outcomes into clinical practice.

The 2024 funding covers a range of different MS research priorities, including causes and prevention, better treatments and cures via repair and regeneration of cells. The grants focus on various areas within these themes, such as the genomics in progressive MS, treatments for better sleep, diet and lifestyle changes, the complexities of immune cells in MS, and harnessing new technologies such as AI to manage MS disease.

MS is an extraordinarily complex disease making it necessary to address all these areas to help gain a full understanding of the disease and devise better approaches to combat it. As always, these grants were selected following a rigorous external expert review of applications overseen by our Research Management Council. This process ensures that the projects and researchers funded are of the highest quality and have the most significant potential to make a difference for people living with MS.

Unfortunately, due to limited resources, not every high-quality project could be funded, and we continue to strive to find ways to extend the funding envelope each year.

Incubator Grant recipient

Research on causes and prevention of MS is a crucial aspect of the research undertaken by some of the grant recipients.

Dr Belinda Kaskow, affiliated with Murdoch University, the Perron Institute, and The University of Western Australia, WA, will use her Incubator Grant to investigate Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIRs). These receptors are proteins present on the surface of specific immune cells and play a role in regulating immune responses. In MS, the immune system becomes dysregulated, resulting in attacks on the brain and spinal cord.

Recent advances in understanding the complexity of KIRs and the development of innovative approaches will enable Dr Kaskow and her team to comprehensively characterise KIR levels and clarify their role in MS.

Understanding how KIRs impact the balance of the immune system in MS not only sheds light on the disease’s mechanisms but also holds the potential to inform better, more targeted immunotherapies and preventive strategies for MS in the future.

Paired Fellowship recipients

Several studies are dedicated to finding better treatments for MS. Funding these projects will hopefully result in huge improvements in disease management and overall quality of life for people living with MS.

One of the studies looking into better disease management will be undertaken by Dr Chenyu Wang and Professor Michael Barnett from The University of Sydney, NSW. Working in collaboration, they will use AI to create advanced tools for analysing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, specifically designed to detect and measure MS progression before it shows clinical symptoms.

This early detection will allow for timely interventions to prevent future disability. The goal of this research aligns with the Paired Fellowship’s objective of translating conceptual ideas into practical applications in clinical settings.

Additionally, many new project grants and fellowships will also focus on improving treatments for people with MS.

Project Grant recipient

Additionally, many new project grants and fellowships will also focus on improving treatments for people with MS.

Associate Professor Yasmine Probst from the University of Wollongong, NSW, is exploring the effect of weight loss in people living with MS. Associate Professor Probst and her multidisciplinary team will use a tested randomised controlled trial design for lifestyle management. This aims to empower individuals with MS to institute positive transformations in their dietary habits, exercise routines, and overall self-management. By fostering constructive behavioural shifts, the goal is to encourage those with MS to take control of their condition.

Postdoctoral Grant recipient

Dr Laura Laslett from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, TAS, will be examining the connection between poor sleep and MS. Her project will investigate treatments for sleep-related issues while enhancing our comprehension of how interventions and alterations in sleep patterns can impact overall sleep quality in people with MS.

Dr Laslett plans to collect data through tracking watches, examining completed and ongoing clinical trials, such as the TAURUS.2 trial, which investigates magnetic brain stimulation in individuals living with MS. Moreover, she will examine information provided by the Australian MS Longitudinal Study (AMSLS) to reveal factors influencing sleep quality over time.

Armed with this invaluable data, Dr Laslett intends to design and conduct future clinical trials focused on addressing sleep problems in individuals with MS. This research will undoubtedly contribute to improvements in understanding and managing sleep-related issues in the MS community.

Senior Fellowship Grant recipient

In the pursuit of a cure for MS, a key research focus lies in the repair and regeneration of cells. Associate Professor Justin Rubio, from The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, VIC, has been awarded a Senior Fellowship to spearhead this quest.

His primary objective is to uncover genes involved in the progression of MS, the most difficult stage of MS to manage. These identified genes hold significant promise as potential drug targets for MS treatment.

Associate Professor Rubio and his team will employ a comprehensive approach, integrating various genomic data sources, including data from single cells and diverse human populations.

This work seeks to pave the way for the development of new treatments to slow or prevent disease progression.

We are incredibly grateful to the MS community, our donors and funding partners, including MS Plus, MS Queensland, MSWA and MS Society of SA & NT, for making it possible to fund these remarkable researchers as they pursue pathways to cures.

This is a brief overview of some of the new research projects and fellowships funded in 2024. The full details of all projects and fellowships we are funding in 2024 can be found here.

A summary of the current and ongoing research projects funded by MS Australia can be found in our Snapshot Document here.

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MS research projects target the research priorities identified by the MS community in Australia