MS Australia Funds Research to Block Inflammatory T-cells From Brain

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by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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A researcher at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, has received an AU$390,000 grant (about $280,000) to investigate how inflammatory T-cells reach the blood and brain of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The 3-year fellowship grant was awarded to Iain Comerford, PhD, for his project, titled “Stopping T cells entering the brain in MS.” It is part of this year’s MS Australia funding round — the largest ever by the nonprofit — to advance research into MS.

An overactive immune response against myelin, which is the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, is the underlying cause of MS. This immune attack is driven, in large part, by inflammatory T-cells that are able to reach the central nervous system, comprised of the brain and spinal cord.

Meanwhile, there is another group of T-cells, called regulatory T-cells, that seems to be decreased in people with MS. These regulatory cells have immunosuppressive functions, meaning they can dampen the inflammatory activity of other types of immune cells.

Comerford is seeking to determine which factors influence the migration of inflammatory T-cells into the brain, and how such factors differ from those controlling the migration of regulatory T-cells. He will be looking at unique combinations of surface proteins as well as into the specific migration mechanisms used by each cell type.

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“This is fundamental research to help us understand the factors that allow the T cells responsible for inflammation, to enter in the central nervous system,” Comerford said in a university press release.

“The tricky thing is, not all T cells are alike, so we are trying to differentiate between those that cause the inflammatory response and those that don’t, and ascertain the markers that make them different,” Comerford said.

The goal is to find strategies that prevent inflammatory T-cells from reaching the brain, without affecting the movement and proliferation of the immunosuppressive cells.

“Once we better understand those differences, there is huge potential to develop therapies to block the action of inflammatory T cells, preventing their migration into the bloodstream and the central nervous system and at the same time protecting the regulatory T cells,” Comerford said.

“This may go some way to preventing the debilitating impacts of MS,” he added.

Comerford’s project is one of the more than two dozen studies that received funding from MS Australia this year, with grants totaling AU$6.9 million (nearly $5 million). This funding round was the largest-ever annual grant funding commitment in the organization’s 50 years of existence, MS Australia states on its website.

“Twenty-six new projects, ranging from one-year innovative studies to major three-year projects, have received grant funding from MS Australia in 2022,” the nonprofit said.

The grants were awarded to projects addressing MS Australia’s priorities for multiple sclerosis research, and target the underlying mechanisms of MS, disease prevention, and the development of better treatments and a potential cure by promoting the repair and regeneration of cells.

This year, the organization also launched a new grant round focused specifically on myelin repair, highlighted by MS Australia as one of the largest research areas of unmet need.

Details from all of the projects funded in this year’s round are available here.

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