Meet The Researcher

Steven Petratos

Monash University, VIC

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
When I was a younger post-doctoral researcher I could recite the specific manuscript, author, journal and year of publication of research studies in my field which some of my colleagues would be amazed at.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
As an undergraduate student I was always intrigued by how the immune system interacted positively and negatively with the brain. Since the start of my research career, I have been driven by a desire to provide a better quality of life for people living with MS. I have always promised myself that I will never give up investigating the devastating disease that my grandfather lived with for most of his life.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
My own personal view is that the most exciting thing in MS research is yet to occur. However, the most inspiring work has been performed by arguably the most inspirational glial cell biologist of his time, namely Professor Ben Barres whom recently passed away following his own battle with pancreatic cancer. His landmark research on glial cell (support cells of the brain) communication has influenced my own work in MS and has allowed me to identify novel means to potentially treat the disease throughout its continuum.
Tell us about your current research project...
The research team, headed by Dr Steven Petratos, has shown that a modified version of a specific protein is present within active MS lesions in a laboratory model of MS. This modified protein then interacts with another protein to cause nerve fibre damage. The scientists are now proposing a new method to block either the modification or the interaction between the two proteins, to halt disease progression and provide recovery from disability. The goal of this project is to limit the nerve fibre damage in MS and thereby prevent disability in individuals living with this condition. This project will address this key unmet medical need by delivering a potential new drug directly into MS plaques through the patient’s own 'blood stem cells', thereby promoting repair of the nervous system.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
MS commonly occurs due to the specific destruction of the protective sheath of nerve fibres, known as myelin, by immune cells, which mistakenly attack this structure. If this project is successful, and in particular, the drug delivery method is shown to be safe and efficacious in repairing the damaged brain, then the fact that it has already been tested in clinical phase trials means that a company can immediately design studies to be tested in MS patient groups that are not responding to other therapies. Therefore, this project will provide the proof-of-principle studies necessary for a new cellular therapy to enter clinical phase trials in MS patients.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
The most enjoyable aspect of working in medical research is the feeling of working in a pioneering team that is driven by a common goal of making people’s lives better. The most enthusiastic times are those ‘eureka’ moments that take us a step further toward developing a new treatment for individuals living with MS.
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Steven Petratos