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Adelaide researcher discovers possible new way to control inflammation in MS

27th September, 2012

A researcher at the University of Adelaide has published results that suggest a possible new method to control the immune system in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Iain Comerford earned a three year fellowship from MS Research Australia to work on this project. It is directed toward understanding how the cells of the immune system are regulated and how they interact with each other.

Along with his colleagues, including Prof Shaun McColl, he focussed on a molecule known as PI3Kgamma(ɣ) which is involved in the activation and movement of white blood cells. The research had previously shown new ways to treat human inflammatory disorders, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and they were keen to find a link with MS.

Dr Comerford and his colleagues have now shown that this molecule is crucial for the development of experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) in an animal model developed as a standard laboratory system for studying MS.

The team showed that a genetic alteration, which knocked out that particular molecule, resulted in a high resistance to the development of EAE and therefore were protected against the nervous system damage typical of multiple sclerosis. When the molecule (PI3Kɣ) is present, severe damage to the insulating myelin in the central nervous system was evident, resulting in inflammation in the spinal cord and myelin loss.

Following up on this exciting result the team then used an orally active drug that blocks the activity of this molecule (PI3Kɣ) at the first signs of disease onset. The drug even suppressed the development of EAE and reversed clinical signs of the disease.

Dr Comerford and his colleagues, showed the effects of blocking PI3Kɣ involve a reduction in the activation of self-reactive immune cells, reduced release of inflammation-inducing molecules from immune cells and also a dramatic reduction in the movement of immune cells into the central nervous system.

Perhaps future therapies for MS will include targeting this molecule which could very specifically dampen the damaging inflammation in the central nervous system.

'It will now be crucial to determine whether targeting these molecules could be a safe and effective way to treat MS in humans,' Dr Comerford said.

Mr Jeremy Wright, CEO of MS Research Australia said, 'It is very rewarding to see that MS Research Australia has been able to support these exciting developments by a young up-and-coming researcher. We will await his further results with great interest,' he said.

To read more about Dr Comerford's project please click here.

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