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University of Sydney researchers win grants to fight MS

7 March 2017

University of Sydney researchers have received funding to continue investigating causes and treatments of Multiple Sclerosis.

Four researchers affiliated with the University of Sydney have been awarded $250,000 by MS Research Australia as part of $1.5 million in new funding to support promising new ways prevent and treat multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disabling disease of the central nervous system commonly affecting young adults.

Dr Grant Parnell of the University of Sydney and the Westmead Institute was awarded $158,000 over three years to investigate how vitamin D protects against MS. Low levels of vitamin D is a known risk factor for developing MS however the benefit of vitamin D in treating and prevention of MS is largely unknown.

Dr Parnell said the grant will allow him and his team to continue their vital research.

"Being awarded this fellowship allows me to continue working alongside our talented team at the Westmead Institute on understanding how vitamin D regulates genes within a particular cell type of the immune system," he said.

"Pharma have produced an array of molecules to affect vitamin D function, which may be employed in novel ways as a result of our characterisation fo the vitamin D regulations network in immune cells and could rapidly pave the way for new treatment options in MS."

Dr Joshua Barton of the University of Sydney and the Brain and Mind Centre was awarded $67,000 over two years to investigate new ways of detecting sub-clinical changes in the brains of MS sufferers. The current methods used by clinicians to monitor the impact of the disease on patients are insensitive and measured over long periods of time. Dr Barton aims to use the brain’s visual systems to monitor disease progression and the effectiveness of therapies for MS in real-time.

Associate Professor Scott Byrne was awarded $18,000 to find out how sunlight suppresses the immune system Associate Professor Byrne’s research will examine the relationship between UV light exposure, the immune system and MS. There is increasing evidence that a number of environmental factors are important in the development and course of MS, which is more prevalent in Scandinavian countries with low UV exposure.

University of Sydney PhD student Angelica Panopoulos was awarded $6,000 to investigate how immune cells enter the brain and spinal cord. Typically, immune cells are blocked from entering the brain via the blood brain barrier, which is faulty in MS sufferers. The hope is her research will help develop a better understanding of whether tiny cell fragments called microparticles can breach the blood brain barrier and therefore contribute to the early stages of MS. 

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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