What is multiple sclerosis?
While the cause of Multiple Sclerosis is unknown, it is thought to be an autoimmune disease. It causes chronic degeneration of the central nervous system (CNS) by attacking the myelin in the brain and spinal cord.
Myelin is the white matter surrounding our nerves, which acts as an electrical insulator and increases the speed of impulse transmissions. Whether the disease manifests itself in repeated episodes of inflammation or as a chronic condition, it results in ‘scarring’, or scleroses, on the CNS, which leads to the impairment or loss of nerve function. In turn, this destruction interferes with the nerve pathways and causes muscular weakness, loss of coordination and speech, and impaired vision.
There is no known cure for MS.
With little known about Multiple Sclerosis, any therapeutic treatment that is developed will need to take a multifaceted approach. As such, Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) researchers, in close collaboration with neuroscientists at the Florey Neuroscience Institute, are investigating treatments that are versatile and will face the challenges of the unknown.
The collaborators hope their research will lead to the stimulation of new cells and also assist the body in warding off attacks by the immune system.
The first avenue of MS research is regenerative therapy. By increasing the precursor cell population, researchers believe they may be able to enhance endogenous repair after a demyelinative insult within the central nervous system.
Secondly, QBI neuroscientists are looking to prevent on-going attacks on the central nervous system by looking at mechanisms of cellular protection and also by modulating the behaviour of immune cells found in the CNS.
“In the last couple of years researchers have started understanding that both immune cells found in the body and specialised immune cells found only in the central nervous system (called microglia) act together in MS to cause damage to myelinating cells and neurons. Our research focuses on understanding these damaging processes better with the aim of discovering new therapeutic targets,” said MS researcher Dr Vilija Jokubaitis.
Further, researchers are investigating whether the leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) can be used as a therapeutic treatment for MS patients. Early research in this area found LIF improved the survival rate of brain cells known as oligodendrocytes and increased the myelination effect of the gene CNTF.