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Platelets could hold the key

Groundbreaking new work by a team of researchers in Melbourne is uncovering the importance of platelets in contributing to MS pathology and diagnosis.

This work is being undertaken by a team of experienced researchers led by Professor Karlheinz Peter from the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute and Monash University in Melbourne. Supported by an MS Research Australia Incubator Grant in 2013, additional funding was awarded via a MS Research Australia Postgraduate Scholarship to Mr Ashish Nair, a talented young researcher supervised by Professor Peter.

Platelets are blood cells that are best known for contributing to blood clot formation. However, new research suggests that platelets also play a role in inflammation, and may be important in MS. In the later stages of MS, platelets have been found in the brain, but no studies have previously looked at whether platelets may be involved in the earliest stages of MS.

Using novel brain imaging techniques, Professor Peter, Mr Nair and their colleagues have confirmed the presence of platelets in the brains of mice in an early stage of MS-like illness, and demonstrated that the platelets are located in close proximity to brain lesions. Importantly, they identified that platelets may be a useful diagnostic marker, because they are present in the brain before any symptoms become present. In addition, preliminary experiments have shown that mice with platelet depletion also show delayed onset of symptoms, suggesting that platelet levels may be closely related to the severity of MS symptoms.

Ultimately, this project has been working towards the development of a sensitive, accurate and easy method to track the progression of MS, particularly in the early stages when there are no clinical signs. This important project has very promising implications for the future identification and early diagnosis of MS. An early diagnosis of MS may allow treatments to be started earlier in the disease process and hopefully limit the development of lesions and their consequences.

Incubator grants are designed to launch innovative new lines of research and to this end, Professor Peter and his colleagues are now well placed to pursue this promising novel approach to improving earlier diagnosis of MS. They also plan to investigate how platelets contribute to MS pathology and whether they may be targeted with new treatments.

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Platelets could hold the key