Meet The Researcher

Ray Norton

Professor Raymond Norton

Monash University, VIC

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I have had a long-term fascination with the ocean. Characterising new molecules from sea anemones and cone snails (both are venomous marine animals) remains a major interest of mine.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
For decades my research has been driven by my desire to see the outcomes of my work have a positive benefit for human health and well-being. While there are numerous medicines available to treat MS, there are still people whose symptoms are poorly controlled. The opportunity to develop a new treatment option that could complement current therapies motivates my involvement in MS research.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
New findings about the basis for MS and the associate pathologies offer opportunities for new therapeutic interventions.
Tell us about your current research project...
Several years ago, I was fortunate to be involved in determining the three-dimensional structure and mechanism of action of a novel peptide from a sea anemone that inhibits a specific ion channel in a sub-class of lymphocytes that causes tissue damage in MS. Analogues of that peptide are about to enter Phase 2 clinical trials for a range of autoimmune diseases. More recently, we developed a new peptide, this time from a scorpion, that inhibits the same ion channel but is easier to make, more stable in the body, and much more selective (thus likely to cause fewer side effects). My project, in collaboration with Dr Natalie Trevaskis at MIPS, will explore the ability of novel analogues of this peptide to remain in the body for longer, home to lymph nodes, where the harmful lymphocytes are produced, and enter the central nervous system to enhance the therapeutic benefits.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
If we can generate long-acting analogues of our peptide that also enter the central nervous system, these peptides will become important new therapeutic leads for the treatment of MS as they act via a totally different mechanism of action from existing therapeutics for MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
The most exciting aspect of our lab work is that it may lead to new treatments that improve the wellbeing of those with MS. The challenge is that moving a molecule from being an interesting focus of research to a new therapeutic lead is a huge and expensive task, so one has to accept that progress occurs in seemingly small steps. It also requires collaborations with a broad range of experts with complementary skills to our own.
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Raymond Norton