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Round one of 2016 incubator grants announced

MS Research Australia incubator grants are awarded to support the generation of early stage data for new ideas in MS research. They aim to provide seed funding for the development of ideas to the point where they are able to attract more comprehensive funding in the future. In the first incubator funding round of 2016, three new grants have been awarded totalling $60,000.

Dr Ben Gu, from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, will be looking at tiny particles found in the bloodstream and whether they may play a role in MS. The Trish MS Research Foundation partnered with MS Research Australia to fund Dr Gu’s project. Dr Gu will be focussing on the role of microvesicles, particles that have budded off cells circulating in the blood, known to be involved in the communication within the immune system. Microvesicles may also aide the attack on myelin in MS through weakening of the blood brain barrier. Dr Gu has previously shown that genetic changes in MS support a role for microvesicles in the disease and that the level of microvesicles are higher than normal in the blood of people with MS. This project will further investigate the microvesicles in the blood of people with MS and determine the cells from which they arose. He will also investigate the question of whether they are able to break down the blood brain barrier and contribute to ability of the immune system to enter the brain in MS.

Associate Professor Melinda Fitzgerald, from the University of Western Australia, has been awarded an incubator grant, with valued funding  support from the MS Society of Western Australia, to test a treatment aimed at preserving the myelinating cells in MS. Associate Professor Fitzgerald’s previous work has looked at a specific type of injury that can occur in the brain, called oxidative damage. While there is some circumstantial evidence that oxidative damage occurs in MS, a comprehensive analysis of its specific effects on the cells that generate myelin is needed. Associate Professor Fitzgerald and her team will also use this funding to take a treatment, which they have previously shown is effective at reducing oxidative damage in other situations, and test it in laboratory models of MS with the hope of limiting oxidative damage, myelin abnormalities and functional loss in MS.

Dr Judith Field, also from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, will be using her incubator grant funding to look more closely at the genetics of a family of people with primary progressive MS. Large scale genetic studies have identified a large number of genes that contribute to a person’s overall risk of developing MS, but this approach has failed to determine genes which increase the risk of primary progressive MS. Targeted studies looking at families where multiple members have primary progressive MS may be a better approach to identify the relevant genes. Dr Field will use whole genome sequencing, which looks at all the genes at once at a high level of detail, in members of a family where three siblings have been diagnosed with primary progressive MS. The availability of samples from these siblings as well as the ability to compare differences with other members of the family will provide a valuable way to answer this unanswered question for primary progressive MS.

‘The standard of applications to this incubator round was very high and I would like to congratulate the successful research teams on their awards,’ said Associate Professor Mark Slee, Chair Incubator Grants, MS Research Australia Research Management Council, ‘We look forward to their progress towards solving these difficult problems in MS.’

For further information about the current incubator grants and all the research currently funded by MS Research Australia visit http://www.msra.org.au/projects-we-fund

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Round one of 2016 incubator grants announced