Targeting proteins may lead to MS treatment breakthrough

T-cell illustration

University of Adelaide researchers will investigate if they can target proteins to divert cells that cause multiple sclerosis (MS) from entering the brain.

The potential outcomes of the three-year study could be life-changing for more than 33,000 Australians, and 2.8 million people worldwide, who are currently living with the chronic autoimmune disease.

Research Fellow, Dr Iain Comerford, is leading the study, which has been supported by MS Australia.

“How cells of the immune system enter the brain to cause disease in conditions like MS is not completely known,” Dr Comerford said.

“Drugs that can block this are likely to be useful new treatments.

“We are testing whether a combination of three proteins that are used by cells of the immune system to guide their migration can be targeted to prevent these cells from accessing the brain in a model of MS.

“We have identified that this combination of proteins is specifically present on inflammatory immune cells that enter the brain.”

“This research is important because if it is successful then it could lead to the development of new drugs that can better treat MS.”Dr Iain Comerford, Research Fellow, University of Adelaide.

The researchers will test the role of these proteins in guiding migration of inflammatory immune cells into the brain using two strategies.

“We will use mice we have engineered that cannot make these three proteins to test whether these proteins are important for T cell migration into the brain,” Dr Comerford said.

“Second, we will use drugs that specifically target these proteins to block their function.

“We will test if we can block these proteins with these drugs to prevent T cells entering the brain in MS.

“This research is important because if it is successful then it could lead to the development of new drugs that can better treat MS.”

The study has received $246,953 in funding from MS Australia as part of the 2023 round of 22 grants nationwide.

The latest study is an extension of previous research led by Dr Comerford that aims to understand the factors that allow the T cells responsible for inflammation to enter the central nervous system.

A recent report discovered that MS is rising at an accelerating rate in Australia, with the number of people diagnosed from 2017 to 2021 increasing sharply by 30 per cent – 25,600 to 33,335.

For more information about investigator led research projects funded by MS Australia, visit here. 


About MS

MS is the most common acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults, often diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40 and, in Australia, affects three times more women than men.

As yet, there is no cure. There is no known single cause of MS, but many genetic and environmental factors have been shown to contribute to its development.

In MS, the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the fatty material – called myelin – around the nerves.

Myelin is important for protecting and insulating nerves so that the electrical messages that the brain sends to the rest of the body, travel quickly and efficiently.

As the myelin breaks down during an MS attack – a process called demyelination – patches of nerves become exposed and then scarred, which renders the nerves unable to communicate messages properly and at risk of subsequent degeneration.

This means that the brain cannot talk to other parts of the body, resulting in a range of symptoms that can include a loss of motor function (for example, walking and hand and arm function, loss of sensation, pain, vision changes and changes to thinking and memory).

Tagged in health, research, Multiple Sclerosis, T cells, medical science, immune system, featured story