In 2007 Natalie Payne was awarded a PhD scholarship, jointly funded by the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation and MS Research Australia. She is conducting her research at Monash University in the laboratory of Professor Claude Bernard. Her project involves investigating the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells, a unique resource, providing in principle access to unlimited quantities of cells. In the first instance, Natalie is characterising the properties of the stem cells that could eventually be used to treat MS. This is an important prerequisite for the use of stem cells as a treatment in humans.
But do stem cells actually work? Further research will also assess the treatment potential of stem cells in animals with a MS-like condition. Natalie is evaluating the ability of these stem cells to suppress disease activity in both chronic progressive and relapsing animal MS. She will also use sophisticated live animal imaging techniques to track the fate of transplanted stem cells.
Recently, stem cells have been shown to behave as beacons that can specifically home in on sites of inflammation, calm the immune response and enhance innate repair. However, it may turn out to be that by exploiting these homing properties, stem cells will be even more beneficial if used as a delivery system for targeted treatments.
Current MS therapies targeting the immune system benefit only a proportion of patients and the next ‘holygrail’ for MS research is to discover therapies that will repair existing nerve damage. Ms Payne’s research has focused on the potential use of stem cells to treat MS. Stem cells are ‘blank slates’ that have the potential to develop into a multitude of more specialised cells. They have also been shown to home to sites of tissue injury and inflammation where they not only improve the immune response, but also enhance repair. It is vital perform extensive laboratory studies before using stem cell therapies in humans.
Ms Payne has investigated the therapeutic potential of two different kinds of adult stem cells called MSCs (Mesenchymal Stem Cells) and NSCs (Neural Stem Cells).In a laboratory model of MS, she discovered that administering these stem cells resulted in suppression of signs of disease and that the capacity for different types of stem cells to home-in on sites of inflammation was linked to the strength of their therapeutic benefit.
Ms Payne’s research has been extraordinarily successful and she has already made a significant contribution to Australian MS research despite being in the early stages of her career. Her research has resulted in three publications in international peer-reviewed journals, with a further three on the way. She has also presented her findings at no less than 11 national and international conferences in the past 3 years.
“The support from MS Research Australia/The Trish Foundation for my PhD has been fantastic and it also gave me the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend the 10th International Congress of Immunology in October last year,” said Ms Payne. ”There were a number of leading international MS researchers there, including significant contributors to the area of stem cell treatment for MS, which made attending this conference particularly rewarding.”
Ms Payne is now in the final stages of writing and preparing to submit her PhD thesis for examination.
- Payne N, Siatskas C, Barnard A, Bernard CC. The prospect of stem cells as multi-faceted purveyors of immune modulation, repair and regeneration in multiple sclerosis. Curr Stem Cell Res Ther. 2011; 6(1): 50-62.
- Siatskas C, Payne N, Short MA, Bernard CC. A consensus statement address mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for multiple sclerosis: It’s time! Stem Cell Rev. 2010; 6(4): 500-6.
- Payne N, Siatskas C, Bernard CC. 2009. The promise of stem cell and regenerative therapies for multiple sclerosis. Journal of Autoimmunity 31(3): 288-94.
- McDonald CA, Payne NL, Sun G, Clayton DJ, Del Borgo MP, Aguilar MI, Perlmutter P, Bernard CC. Single β3-amino acid substitutions to MOG peptides suppress the development of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis.J Neuroimmunol. 2014 Oct 8;277(1-2):67-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2014.09.022.