MS is a very varied disease and people experience different levels of disability. The majority of people with MS are diagnosed with a form of the disease called relapsing-remitting MS, which is characterised by acute attacks followed by periods of remission in which there is no disease activity or disability progression. Over a 15 to 20 year period, around half of these people will go on to develop a form of MS called secondary progressive MS where there is a gradual accumulation of disabilities. The rarest form, primary progressive MS, is shows progressive disability from the start. Unfortunately, there are very limited treatment options for people with the progressive forms disease.
The development of treatments for progressive MS is hampered by the current lack of understanding of the biochemical mechanisms that differentiate relapsing-remitting MS from the progressive forms. Associate Professor Crouch has discovered that copper which is normally found in the body, is not distributed normally in the body of people with progressive MS. He suggests this may affect the function of some of the body's enzymes, leading to changes in the biochemical processes in individual cells.
In this project, Associate Professor Crouch will quantify the distribution and amount of copper in tissue from the brain and spinal cord in people with and without MS. He is also hoping to understand how copper in the body influences the molecular mechanisms that underpin progressive MS, and to begin pre-clinical trials of a potential therapy for progressive forms of the disease.
Associate Professor Crouch and his research team have generated promising data that helps reveal the role that copper might be playing in the development of progressive MS, and its potential as a therapeutic target.
Associate Professor Crouch and his team have analysed myelin changes in laboratory models of MS which has supported the team’s hypothesis of the involvement of copper in progressive MS. Preliminary work has also shown that the changes in copper levels in the laboratory models responds to treatment with a copper-based drug. Their analysis of copper levels of tissue from people with MS also supports these findings and indicates that the laboratory findings may mirror the situation in humans. This is a promising indication that the copper drug could eventually be taken forward for testing in people with MS.
In the second year of the project, Associate Professor Crouch and his team have delved deeper into the mechanisms underpinning the connection between copper and MS. They have analysed the levels of genes involved in copper handling, myelin and the immune response, and determined the distribution of copper in human spinal cord tissue affected by progressive MS. They have also looked at the changes in the levels of these genes in laboratory models of MS and how these changes are impacted by treating the models with the copper drug.
This work strengthens the team’s hypothesis of the role of copper in MS, which is important should the copper drug be considered as a new treatment option for progressive MS. These findings have been presented at national and international conferences and have attracted exciting international collaborations.
Updated: 11 June 2020
Updated: 05 January, 2018