Dr Kimberley Pitman has been awarded a highly prestigious NHMRC Early Career Fellowship. Part of her fellowship involves developing a method to grow human myelin producing cells in the laboratory. This is known as tissue culture. Myelin, the coating that protects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, is produced by cells called oligodendrocytes. It allows electrical signals, such as those that signal moving your arm, to be conducted along the nerve cells quickly. In MS, there is a loss of oligodendrocytes which ‘short-circuits’ the nerve signals leading to the symptoms of MS.
With the help of this Ian Ballard Travel Award, Dr Pitman will travel to Münster, Germany, to learn from Professor Tanja Kuhlmann at Universität Münster. During her six week stay here, Dr Pitman will learn and adapt methods to grow and develop human oligodendrocytes in the laboratory. Once back in Australia, this will allow Dr Pitman to greatly advance her research into finding ways to repair myelin in MS. The gradual loss of myelin over time is associated with progressive MS and this research will open the door to further studies investigating myelin repair and progressive MS. This laboratory model could be used to test new therapies that may help prevent, treat or cure progressive MS.
Learning these techniques will also position Dr Pitman as a leader of this technique here in Australia, and as a key member of one of the few laboratories that can perform this technique worldwide. This will lead to productive collaborations with other national and international researchers.
Dr Pitman had a successful trip to Munster, Germany where she learnt tissue culture techniques from Professor Tanja Kuhlmann. Dr Pitman learnt how to turn induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult cells that can be reprogrammed to become any cell type, into oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce myelin. She is currently establishing this system back in Australia so she can investigate why oligodendrocytes die in people with MS.
Dr Pitman and her team have received further funding from the Royal Hobart Hospital Research Foundation to continue her work.
Updated: 31 March 2019
Updated: 01 January, 2018