The most recent round of incubator grants were awarded in July. These smaller grants are awarded to investigate research ideas that have not been looked at before and to collect pilot data for future grant applications.
Dr Markus Hofer, from the University of Sydney, received $24,700 for one year to investigate ways that interferon-beta treatments could be improved for people with MS. Interferon-beta was the first specific disease-modifying therapy licensed for MS and remains one of the most commonly prescribed MS treatments worldwide. Interferon-beta has the ability to reduce relapses and lessen lesion load. However, particularly for patients in a more active phase of their disease, it can also cause side effects.
Side effects come about due to medications having effects on cells or genes that are not directly related to the disease process. Interferon-beta, has an effect on a large number of genes, but one gene in particular that is likely to be related to the side effects rather than benefits of interferon-beta is pS-STAT1. pS-STAT1 is a regulator of other genes, meaning changes to pS-STAT1 can then flow down to a multitude of functional changes in a cell.
pS-STAT1 is a key factor in the disease process and progression of MS and particularly has been shown to be related to the reduced response to interferon-beta in patients with very active disease. However, nothing is currently known about the role pS-STAT1 plays in the brain and spinal cord of people with MS.
Dr Hofer will investigate pS-STAT1 within the brain and spinal cord of a laboratory model of MS and also determine the activity of pS-STAT1 in brain tissue from people with MS. This will define whether modifications to pS-STAT1 could then limit current side effects of interferon-beta and improve the effectiveness and experience of this widely used medication.