MS Australia’s 2023 Incubator Grants: Advancing Innovative MS Research

30 August 2023

  • MS Australia has funded four new MS research projects totalling $92,565 in this year’s first round of Incubator Grants.
  • Incubator grants support novel “outside the box” ideas, allowing the generation of preliminary data to support new concepts, enabling researchers to apply for larger grants in the future.
  • The newly funded projects will explore several aspects of MS research using innovative AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology for analysing MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans, understanding the significance of connection points between nerve cells, studying the complexities of myelin production, and developing new and improved ways to monitor MS flare-ups using tracers in the brain.

MS Australia is delighted to announce the outcomes of the first incubator funding round of 2023. Four new grants totalling $92,565 have been awarded.

Incubator grants provide funding for the initial stages of innovative new research, intending to gather initial data needed to seek additional support from a range of funding bodies.

‘These innovative projects hold great promise for advancing MS research. I eagerly await the outcomes as they have the potential to bring us closer to our goal of stopping MS in its tracks,’ said Rohan Greenland, CEO of MS Australia.

Historically, this scheme has been highly successful, with every dollar invested, the scientists have secured an additional $27 in subsequent funding, accelerating their areas of research in MS.

2023 Incubator Grants

Ms Natalie King and her team from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research (TAS) will investigate the activity of myelin-producing cells in MS.

In MS, the insulating, protective layer around nerves known as myelin, is attacked by the immune system. Although myelin can be repaired, individuals with MS experience a loss of myelin repair capacity in certain cells called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), and the exact cause of this impairment is not fully understood.

Interestingly, it has been recently discovered that OPCs play a significant role in pruning connections between nerve cells. OPCs that are engaged in this process may not be able to repair damaged myelin.

Ms Natalie King’s study will help to uncover the mechanisms that hinder myelin repair in MS and understand which factors can guide OPCs towards generating new myelin.

With this knowledge, the researchers hope to find ways to promote brain repair in people with MS, leading to new therapeutic options for MS.

Associate Professor Simon Murray and his team at the University of Melbourne (VIC) also aim to gain insights into how myelin is produced in MS.

Currently, there is limited knowledge about how myelin is formed and maintained throughout life.

To gain a deeper understanding, the team will use a zebrafish laboratory model. This innovative model allows the researchers to observe and study the nerve growth processes at the single-cell level using fluorescent imaging.

By using innovative gene, molecular, and imaging technologies, the team will be able to identify crucial cellular processes required to generate the myelin sheath in a living brain in real time.

The knowledge gained from Associate Professor Murray and his team could contribute to the development of new targeted therapies that could promote myelin repair.

In addition, these new therapies may have a positive effect on learning, memory, and overall brain health as people age.

Dr Mohammed Haskali and his team from The University of Melbourne (VIC) will be developing new methods to monitor flare-ups in MS.

Current diagnostic tools, such as clinical assessments and MRI scans, are not very sensitive and may lead to delayed diagnosis. However, a technique called positron emission tomography (PET) shows great promise.

PET can measure inflammation in the brain at a cellular level, which could significantly enhance the diagnosis and monitoring of MS. It can also provide insights into how individuals are responding to treatment.

Using brain tracers for specific proteins on brain cells, the researchers hope to accurately visualise and monitor inflammation occurring in real time.

Dr Haskali and his team aim to develop four PET tracers that could improve the diagnosis, monitoring, and management of MS. Their overall aim is to facilitate better treatment strategies for people with MS.

Dr Heidi Beadnall and her team from The University of Sydney (NSW) are another group of researchers dedicated to improving diagnostic tools for MS, using the latest advances in imaging technology and artificial intelligence (AI).

The Sydney Neuroimaging Analysis Centre (SNAC) has developed a fully automated quantitative MRI analysis using AI. This innovative tool could greatly assist neurologists in determining the effectiveness of treatments and enable early intervention if necessary.

Dr Beadnall and her team will explore the feasibility of calculating brain lesion numbers, lesion volumes, and brain volumes from routine MRI scans using automated imaging analysis.

Dr Beadnall will also examine how easily neurologists can access this information in the clinic using MSBase, a large international database of MS clinical outcomes.

By evaluating the utility of these measurements in MS clinical practice and their influence on clinical decisions, this study will provide insights into personalised care for people with MS.

In addition, the team will determine which factors, such as demographics, clinical factors and/or MRI results, can contribute to management and treatment decisions. The findings from this study will provide valuable information for tailored care for people with MS.

The standard of applications was extremely impressive, reflecting the high calibre of science underway in Australia. It is vital that our fundraising efforts continue to ensure we maintain the momentum of quality MS research towards our common goal of a world without MS.

For more information about these grants and other research projects currently funded by MS Australia, please click here.

MS Australia’s media release: Pioneering AI Promises Revolutionary Advancements in Multiple Sclerosis Treatment, can be found here.


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MS Australia’s 2023 Incubator Grants: Advancing Innovative MS Research