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Translating science into action

21st April, 2017

Advances in medicine and medical technology relies on the successful translation of fundamental laboratory research to clinical implementation. However, this is torturous road which contains a number of hurdles that need to be overcome. The estimated time it takes for fundamental research to be turned into a clinical implementation is 16-17 years. Here at MS Research Australia we are focussed on challenging this status quo in order accelerate the positive impact that research can have on people with MS in a more viable timeframe.

Just this year we have celebrated the success of two separate teams of scientists that have successfully gone from early fundamental research through to a meaningful clinical application. We are proud to have supported both these groups during their fundamental research right through to the later clinical research stages by providing more funding or the necessary frameworks.

The first group is Dr Edwin Lim, Professor Gilles Guillemin, Professor Bruce Brew and their team. Originally they were investigating the way human cells break down one of the body’s amino acids in response to chronic inflammation. They then discovered that these biochemical pathways appears to be more or less active depending on the type of MS. They persevered with their research and discovered that they could detect the biochemical changes in the blood of people with MS. This has led to them developing of the potential first ever blood test to aid in the deciphering between the different types of MS. MS Research Australia provided their innovative project with funding from the early days; in a medical research environment where it is undoubtedly challenging to find funding for such “out of the box” ideas.  Read more about the announcement here.

The second group is Professor Michael Pender and Professor Rajiv Khanna. They have just released some very early clinical trial data on a novel therapy option called EBV-specific adoptive immunotherapy. This is a therapy were people’s T cells are removed from the body, retrained and strengthen to target EBV infected cells, before being reinfused back into the body. So far 6 people with progressive MS have been treated with this therapy in a study that was primarily designed to test safety. Half of the patients showed signs of improvement and none of the six participants had serious side effects. While this is a very early clinical trial, we are cautiously optimistic. This exciting work has arisen out a number of studies with Professor Pender looking at the role of EBV in MS, and the  group has made many fundamental discoveries and have shown that there are specific differences in the immune system in people with MS versus  people without MS, especially when it comes to controlling EBV. Advances in our understanding of the immune system will lead to improvement in immunotherapies like this not only for MS but also for other autoimmune diseases and cancer.

The famous French scientist Louis Pasteur once said, 'To him who devotes his life to science, nothing can give more happiness than increasing the number of discoveries, but his cup of joy is full when the results of his studies immediately find practical applications.'  These words and sentiment are still true today. Each discovery is important, and we don’t know where fundamental research will take us, but we are truly grateful when we can help turn these wonderful discoveries into potential real-world benefits for those that most desperately need them.