Targeting immune cells in the brain to improve the prognosis of MS

Associate Professor Sarah Spencer

RMIT University, VIC

| Better treatments | Immunology | Incubator | 2018 | Investigator Led Research |


Myelin is the protective coating around the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Loss of this myelin may lead to the physical or cognitive symptoms or events experienced by people with MS. In a previous clinical trial the antibiotic, Minocycline, was able to delay multiple sclerosis (MS) onset by at least six months in many people that had had a single demyelinating event (known as clinically isolated syndrome; CIS).

Exactly how minocycline prevents the onset of MS is, as yet, unclear and there are also a number of side effects associated with this antibiotic that may limit its use as a treatment for MS.
Minocycline is known to broadly supress inflammation in the body, and is able to reduce the activity of the immune cells resident in the brain known as microglia.

In this Incubator Grant, Associate Professor Sarah Spencer, will test her theory that minocycline delays the onset of MS by preventing microglia from attacking the myelin coating of nerve cells.

Using a laboratory model of MS, Associate Professor Spencer will administer minocycline and monitor the animals for signs of the MS-like disease. She will also examine the brains using microscopy to see whether treatment with minocycline alters the number and appearance of microglial cells in this model.

By understanding how minocycline acts in the model of MS-like illness, Associate Professor Spencer may be able to develop new drugs that have the same actions of minocycline, with fewer side effects.

Progress to Date

Associate Professor Spencer has so far successfully generated laboratory models of myelin loss and tested the role of a specific brain cell known as microglia in the repair of myelin. Tissue samples have been collected and are currently being analysed.

She will continue to investigate the effects of removing microglia on the loss of myelin and will also determine the effects of minocycline on microglia in a model of MS.

Associate Professor Spencer plans to present her research findings at a conference in New Zealand.

Updated: 31 March 2019

Updated: 02 January, 2018



Grant Awarded

  • Incubator grant

Total Funding

  • $24,500


  • 2 years

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Targeting immune cells in the brain to improve the prognosis of MS