Professor Steve Wilton and Dr. Rakesh Veedu from Murdoch University’s Centre for Comparative Genomics in Western Australia received project grants of $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, to investigate and develop new methods for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The grants are part of $1.834 million in research funding given by MS Research Australia in a series of research and travel awards, scholarships, and fellowships.
Professor Wilton’s research project will focus on new methods of suppressing target genes, namely the validation of alternative drugs to suppress inflammation, as current disease-modifying drugs raise safety concerns due to their side effects. “In addition to inflammation, patients with MS also suffer neuronal damage. Although there are disease-modifying drugs that modulate the immune system, these do not reverse the damage that has occurred in the brain and spinal cord,” Professor Wilton said in a Murdoch University news release. “We must find methods to promote the restoration of nerve function in these areas.”
Key goals of modern MS drug design include the delivery of the therapeutic agent to specific sites within the body relevant to the disease, instead of a systemic approach, in order to maximize the treatment’s efficacy while reducing toxicity and adverse effects. Dr. Veedu gives the example of current treatments that are shown to reduce relapse rates, but still raise concerns due to their long-term side effects.
His project will involve highly innovative chemically modified DNA enzymes for specific targeting and inhibition of cell receptors, delivering the therapeutic agent specifically to immune T-cells in order to reduce inflammation. “This method will be a safer approach to deliver target specific therapy towards the treatment of MS,” Dr. Veedu said.“Our technology is highly unique from the existing agents in terms of its mechanism, and the application of DNA enzymes has not been reported.”
Professor Wilton’s and Dr. Veedu’s projects were among 24 research projects supported in this round of MS Research Australia grants, covering a range of scientific avenues related to MS health.
MS, a degenerative and debilitating central nervous system disease characterized by neuronal demyelination, affects an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide, according to the National MS Society. Currently, there is no cure for MS.