National search for proteins that cause MS

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Australian researchers will aim to discover the proteins that cause multiple sclerosis (MS), thanks to a new nationwide research effort being launched today.

This national research project - the first of its kind in Australia and one of the first of its kind in the world - will be launched at the University of Adelaide by the Hon. Mark Butler MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health.

"This collaborative research project has the potential to find crucial answers about a debilitating disease that affects millions of people worldwide," Mr Butler says.

More than 2.5 million people worldwide have MS, with the disease costing the Australian community alone an estimated $2 billion each year. Despite considerable research efforts so far, there are few effective treatments for MS.

The new research project will receive funding of $1 million over four years, starting this year, under the Australian Research Council's Linkage Projects funding scheme and from MS Research Australia (MSRA), the research arm of MS Australia.

The research is a major national MS collaboration between three Australian universities and the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, with the University of Adelaide as lead institution. The collaboration includes:

"With MS, there are a number of major stages that occur in the disease, including activation and remission," says Professor Shaun McColl, Deputy Head of the School of Molecular & Biomedical Science at the University of Adelaide.

"At each of these major stages, certain genes are activated. Those genes express proteins, and we believe these could have the effect of switching the disease on and off. If we can discover the key proteins and their roles in the development of MS, we could go a long way towards finding potential treatments or cures for the condition," he says.

The area of research involved in discovering such proteins is known as proteomics.

"There is no doubt that identification of a set of proteins that are specifically linked to different stages and pathological processes in MS will provide insight into the disease," says Professor Claude Bernard, Group Leader of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Lab at Monash University. "It will also help evaluate the prognosis of patients with MS, guide their treatment and provide novel therapeutic approaches," he says.

Mr Jeremy Wright, Executive Director of MS Research Australia, says: "This is a natural step for MSRA to help researchers make important new discoveries that will translate into real outcomes for people with MS. Together with the ARC, we are investing $1 million into this promising new area for MS research."

Facts about MS

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune cells attack a person's central nervous system. MS affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other.

More than 2.5 million people around the world have MS. This includes around 20,000 Australians.

Three out of every four people diagnosed are women.

MS is the most common neurological disease in young adults. It often strikes when a person is at their most active, usually in their early 20s, with increasing professional, social and/or family responsibilities.

The total financial cost annually of MS to the Australian community is estimated to be nearly $2 billion.

Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia was set up in 2004 by MS Australia to lift the MS research effort by raising funds and steering national research based on five interrelated platforms.

It advances knowledge of treatments, a cause and cure for MS by targeting research in which Australia can lead the world.

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Contact Details

Professor Shaun McColl
Director, Centre for Molecular Pathology
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 4259
Mobile: +61 414 303 425

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762