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Funding boost for MS research partnership

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30 May 2012

Dr Andrew Laslett, Professor Claude Bernard and Dr Carmel O\'Brien
Dr Andrew Laslett, Professor Claude Bernard and Dr Carmel OBrien

Efforts to reverse the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) by an international team of scientists have been recognised with more than A$6.6 million in research funding.

Coinciding with World MS Day, Federal Minister for Health the Honourable Tanya Plibersek today announced A$1.75 million in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding for the Australian arm of the research to be led by Monash University's Professor Claude Bernard.

A leading cause of disability, MS attacks myelin, the protective coating around nerves, resulting in the progressive and unpredictable loss of abilities such as motor skills, vision and memory. Based on promising preliminary studies, the new project aims to develop a stem cell-based therapy to halt the destruction of myelin and stimulate myelin growth. In the long-term, this approach could lead to new therapies.

Professor Bernard's team at the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories (MISCL) will work with scientists from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering led by Drs Andrew Laslett and Carmel O'Brien. Project partners in the US, The Universities of California, Irvine and San Diego and the Scripps Research Institute were funded with A$4.87 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. 

Professor Bernard said the project offered hope for MS patients with the most severe form of the disease for which there was no effective treatment.

"This research is particularly important as it may bring us a step closer to the development of novel treatments for MS patients with severe disease," Professor Bernard said.

"I am sure that like us, the MS community both here in Australia and overseas will be most thankful to the NHMRC for their commitment to relieve the suffering associated with such a severely debilitating and degenerative disease."

Dr Laslett said the Australian and US researchers had complementary expertise in stem cells and MS research.

"Collectively, the team plans to coax stem cells into a promising cell type, human neural precursor cells, and assess the ability of these cells to slow, arrest or even reverse the clinical manifestations of MS progression," Dr Laslett said.

MS Australia estimated that 21,000 Australians, and 2.5 million people worldwide have MS.