Investigation of the role of red blood cells in MS

Associate Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott

The University of Newcastle, NSW

| Better treatments | Epidemiology | Genetics | Incubator | 2017 | Investigator Led Research |


microRNAs are molecules which are used by cells to control gene activity by different cell types. Since the genome of each cell is identical, this is one of the mechanisms by which characteristics of individual cell types are controlled. microRNAs are known to play roles in cell growth, cell death and development of tissue types. microRNAs are also known to play a role in disease processes and may be able to be used as a marker of disease.

This project will characterise the microRNAs of red blood cells in people with different types of MS, relapsing remitting MS and secondary progressive MS and also compare them to people who do not have MS. Associate Professor Lechner-Scott and her team will also determine whether the microRNA profile is affected by the level of disease severity in the people with MS or by a person’s age or level of physical activity. Red blood cells (or erythrocytes) have the advantage of being easily accessible via a simple blood test and can be easily and cost-effectively purified.

It is hoped that this project will identify a profile of biomarkers that can be used as part of a blood test to identify predictive markers of the progression of MS. This in turn may lead to the identification of novel targets for future therapies, in particular for people with secondary progressive MS.

Progress to Date

The overarching aim of this project is to identify biomarkers for MS that could be accessed using a simple blood test. So far, Professor Lechner-Scott and her team have profiled the microRNAs within red blood cells of people with relapsing remitting MS, both on and off treatments for their MS, secondary progressive MS and people without MS. The team has found that microRNAs do differ in people with MS in comparison to people without MS. Interestingly, there were greater differences between people with relapsing remitting MS and people without MS than in people with secondary progressive MS and people without MS. One of the microRNAs tracked with recent measurements of cognition undertaken in the clinic. It also seems that microRNA activity levels are affected by MS medications.

While the exact role of these gene regulators remains to be determined in MS, with this small pilot project Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott and her team were able to identify microRNA signatures that may be able to be developed into disease biomarkers.

These findings have been presented nationally and internationally at scientific conferences.


  • Groen K, Maltby VE, Lea RA, Sanders KA, Fink JL, Scott RJ, Tajouri L, Lechner-Scott J. Erythrocyte microRNA sequencing reveals differential expression in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. BMC Med Genomics. 2018 11(1):48.

Updated: 20 April 2018

Updated: 18 January, 2017



Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $18,000


  • 1 year over 2017

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Investigation of the role of red blood cells in MS