The Australian and New Zealand NMO Collaboration

Associate Professor Mark Slee

Flinders University, SA

| Causes and Prevention | Epidemiology | Genetics | Incubator | 2011 | Investigator Led Research |


Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is a severe inflammatory disease of the nervous system affecting mainly the spinal cord and eye (optic) nerves. NMO has been recognised as a distinct variant of MS for over 130 years. The recent discovery of a biomarker in cases of NMO has been an important, but somewhat controversial development in our understanding of the disease. The biomarker is an ‘auto-antibody’ that recognises a water chanel in the support cells of the brain known as astrocytes.

This project aims to determine the importance of this biomarker in NMO diagnosis and to determine how accurately it can distinguish between people who have typical MS, typical NMO, NMO spectrum disease and people without any medical disorders.

This pilot project, being led by Dr Mark Slee, is part of a larger collaborative study across Australia and New Zealand examining the incidence and prevalence of NMO in the population. The study is designed as a collaboration of neurologists and neuroscientists with an interest in MS and NMO. This will be one of the most comprehensive studies of the sensitivity and specificity of a biomarker for NMO yet undertaken.

Progress to Date

To date, Dr Slee and colleagues have collected over a hundred cases of patients with NMO, NMO spectrum disease and matched classical MS. The collection includes detailed clinical data, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and serum collected for each individual.

The team is now analysing this information as well as testing the assay to be used for antibody detection. The assay is currently being assessed at the reference laboratory located at Queensland Pathology. The samples will then be sent to Prof Angela Vincent’s laboratory at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford for final testing.
This collection is one of the largest NMO cohorts available and Dr Slee and his team expect that it is large enough to answer the important questions raised in this study.

Following the initial work done with this Incubator grant, yhe team were subsequently successful in obtaining a further Project Grant from MS Research Australia and a Fellowhship for Dr Wajih Bukhari, to further investigate the genetic and biological markers found in people with NMO.


  • Bukhari W, Prain KM, Waters P, Woodhall M, O'Gorman CM, Clarke L, Silvestrini RA, Bundell CS, Abernethy D, Bhuta S, Blum S, Boggild M, Boundy K, Brew BJ, Brown M, Brownlee WJ, Butzkueven H, Carroll WM, Chen C, Coulthard A, Dale RC, Das C, Dear K, Fabis-Pedrini MJ, Fulcher D, Gillis D, Hawke S, Heard R, Henderson APD, Heshmat S, Hodgkinson S, Jimenez-Sanchez S, Killpatrick T, King J, Kneebone C, Kornberg AJ, Lechner-Scott J, Lin MW, Lynch C, Macdonell R, Mason DF, McCombe PA, Pender MP, Pereira JA, Pollard JD, Reddel SW, Shaw C, Spies J, Stankovich J, Sutton I, Vucic S, Walsh M, Wong RC, Yiu EM, Barnett MH, Kermode AG, Marriott MP, Parratt JDE, Slee M, Taylor BV, Willoughby E, Wilson RJ, Vincent A, Broadley SA. Incidence and prevalence of NMOSD in Australia and New Zealand. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2017 May 26. pii: jnnp-2016-314839. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2016-314839. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28550069.

Updated: 22 June 2012


Updated: 03 January, 2011

Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $20,000


  • 1 year over 2011

Read More

Newsletter subscription

  • Enter your details

The Australian and New Zealand NMO Collaboration