A new 2014 MS Research Australia project grant holds particular promise for tackling the progressive forms of MS. This is an important area of research, since there are currently no treatment options for these forms of the disease.
Associate Professor David Brown at the University of NSW, has been awarded $250,000 over three years, co-funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation, to investigate a molecule known as MIC-1/GDF15 that appears to play a key role in regulating cells of the innate immune system.
The innate immune system is generally the ‘first line’ of defence against perceived threats to the body. It is also involved in longer term clean-up and repair responses to damage. The attention of many researchers has increasingly been turning to the role of the innate immune system in MS as it appears to play a significant role in the ‘slow-burning’ accumulation of myelin and nerve damage that occurs in progressive forms of MS.
The research program discovered the MIC-1/GDF15 molecule, and as a result of this research, the molecule is now being developed internationally as a new therapy for a number of diseases including obesity and inflammation. Preliminary evidence from his laboratory suggests that MIC-1/GDF15 also modulates the innate immune system and that it may be an effective treatment for progressive MS.
The focus of this project will be the mechanisms by which MIC-1/GDF15 regulates the cells of the innate immune system, such as dendritic cells and the microglial cells of the brain. He also aims to use laboratory models of MS to obtain evidence that MIC-1/GDF15 could be used as a therapeutic agent in autoimmune disease.
Since MIC-1/GDF15 is about to enter Phase I clinical trials for appetite suppression, much of the safety work in humans is underway. This means that if Associate Professor Brown can confirm a role for MIC-1/GDF15 in MS there will be an exciting opportunity to rapidly progress his experimental results into direct benefits for people with progressive forms of MS.
With his considerable experience with this molecule and the tools and methods already developed at the University of NSW, Associate Professor Brown is well positioned to make rapid progress on this exciting project.