Australian Council Supports Research Into MS Risk Factors, Falls

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by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is giving a total of AU$6.75 million (about $5 million) in grants to advance research into multiple sclerosis (MS), including risk factors for the disease, preventing falls, and harnessing viral-immune system interactions to improve patients’ lives.

The three investigator grants, which combine salary and research support over a period of five years, will start in 2022, MS Australia announced in a press release.

This year’s recipients are Bruce Taylor, MD, professor of neurological research at the University of Tasmania; David Tscharke, PhD, professor at the Australian National University; and Stephen Lord, PhD, professor at the University of New South Wales.

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All had previously received grants from MS Research Australia, the research arm of MS Australia, to advance their research efforts.

“It is fantastic to see that they are receiving support from the government for their ongoing research into MS,” MS Australia wrote in the release. “Only 15% of applicants were funded through this grant program.”

Although MS is not an inherited disease, some genetic factors — either alone or in combination with other factors — may predispose people to it.

Taylor received AU$2,335,378 in funding to determine the genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that place people at risk for MS. His work will also focus on factors that contribute to disease progression.

Tscharke’s project, which aims to understand how the immune system interacts with virus-infected cells, was awarded an AU$2,072,570 grant.

Specifically, Tscharke seeks to find ways to target viruses that infect people whose immune system may be impaired. This is particularly relevant for people with MS, whose disease-modifying therapies can dampen the immune system and put them at greater risk for opportunistic infections.

Lord was awarded AU$2,352,015 to evaluate interventions that prevent falls in people living with MS. Difficulties with maintaining balance and controlling posture are common disease symptoms.

Lord and his team will develop software, diagnostic tools, and balance training systems that aim to prevent falls and improve the health and quality of life of those with balance impairments.

In addition to these three researchers, Sudarshini Ramanathan, MD, with the University of Sydney, received a total of AU$1,551,689 in funding to investigate the mechanisms involved in related autoimmune neurological diseases, develop diagnostic tools, and identify new therapeutic targets.

“We are very excited by the potential of these grants to help improve our understanding of MS and ultimately provide highly targeted and effective approaches to halt and reverse the effects of MS,” MS Australia wrote.

“It is also extremely encouraging to see in this NHMRC funding round the number of projects focusing on neurodegenerative conditions,” the organization added.

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