Developing brain imaging tracers to monitor MS flare up and progression

Dr Mohammad Haskali

The University of Melbourne, VIC

| Better treatments | Neurobiology | Incubator | 2023 | Investigator Led Research |


MS is a debilitating neuroinflammatory illness affecting more than 33,000 people in Australia. Currently, we do not have sensitive and specific tools to diagnose MS relapses, as well as diagnosing ‘inflammatory’ versus ‘progressive’ forms of the disease. The usual methods, such as clinical assessment and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are not very sensitive and may lead to incorrect or delayed diagnoses. 

There is a technique called positron emission tomography (PET) that shows great promise in the field of MS. PET can measure inflammation in the brain at a cellular level, which could greatly improve the diagnosis and monitoring of MS. It can also help determine how the disease is responding to treatment. 

During neuroinflammation in MS, a protein known as a purinergic receptor, P2X7R, becomes more active. Previous research by the team has demonstrated that this protein is involved in driving and sustaining MS progression. Due to its important role in neuroinflammation, P2X7R can be used as a target for imaging techniques to monitor disease activity in real time. By using PET tracers that specifically bind to P2X7R, the researchers can accurately visualise the expression and activation of P2X7R, and immune brain cells called microglia, allowing them to monitor the inflammation happening in the brain. 

Dr Mohammed Haskali and his team will focus on developing four PET tracers that target P2X7R. The ultimate goal is to improve the diagnosis of MS, monitor the effectiveness of treatments, and better manage people with MS. 

Updated: 30 August, 2023

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years


The University of Melbourne, VIC

Total Funding

  • $25,000


  • 1 year – starting 2023

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Developing brain imaging tracers to monitor MS flare up and progression