15 Feb 2022

CCS researchers win MS Australia grant for multiple sclerosis research

MS Australia will make an intensive bid to urgently find ways to repair nerve fibres and their protective covering (myelin), which are damaged in people with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). The bid will launch this year thanks to $6.9 million in new research grants announced 15 February (see their research snapshot and detail of all grants).

This is the largest research investment in MS Australia’s 50-year history, taking the total amount provided for local investigator-led scientific projects in MS to $54 million since the organisation began in 1972.

Monash University researchers received a total of $754,000 in MS Australia’s 2022 round of funding. They included four Central Clinical School (CCS) researchers and one Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researcher. Congratulations to CCS's Associate Professor Anneke van der WaltDr Yi Chao Foong, Dr Daniel Merlo, Dr Steven Petratos,  and BDI's Dr Hugh Reid!

See MS Australia's snapshot of research funding kicking off
in 2022, including for 5 Monash researchers.

MS Australia has themed its grants under headings:

Developing better treatments

  • Neurobiology

Dr Yi Chao Foong is investigating smart phone apps to predict asymptomatic progression and treatment failure in MS. He has received a Postgraduate Scholarship grant of $30,000 across three years. He is a new PhD student supervised by Associate Professor Anneke van der Walt. He was also recently successful in obtaining an NHMRC postgraduate scholarship (see 11 Jan NHMRC news item). Dr Foong will be joining the Department of Neuroscience as a clinical fellow from 2023.

  • Social and applied research

Dr Daniel Merlo, is working towards detecting early changes in memory and speed of thinking to improve care in MS clinical practice. He has received a Postdoctoral Fellowship grant of $225,000 across three years. See his Monash researcher profile.

A cure via repair and regeneration of cells

  • Neurobiology

Dr Steven Petratos is developing a new therapeutic approach for brain repair in MS. He has received a Project grant of $225,000 across three years. See his Monash researcher profile.

Causes and prevention

  • Genetics and epidemiology

Associate Professor Anneke van der Walt is looking at the risk of cervical precancer and cancer in women with MS. She received a Project grant of $249,000 across three years. See her Monash researcher profile.

  • Immunology

Dr Hugh Reid is investigating the molecular basis for the immune attack on the brain in MS. He received an Incubator grant of $25,000 for one year. See his Monash researcher profile.

MS Australia grants ranging from $24,000 to $750,000 have been awarded to 26 research teams at universities and medical research institutions around the country, with the goal of supercharging the next major leap in improving the lives of people living with MS and ultimately finding a cure for this debilitating and progressive autoimmune disease.

There is currently no cure for MS, which affects 25,600 people in Australia; they may experience chronic pain, balance and walking problems, fatigue, and sight and cognition issues.[1] Disease progression is associated with significant healthcare costs and individual life impacts, including reduced ability to study or work, loss of income, physical disability, poor mental health and pressure on family and personal relationships. 1

“While there have been some amazing developments in MS in recent years, with new therapies that halt or slow progression by reducing the immune attack, our next challenge is  to find ways to repair the damage done to the myelin and nerves in the brain and spine, which accelerates in progressive forms of the disease,” said Dr Julia Morahan, Head of Research, MS Australia.

“For people with active and aggressive forms of MS, treatments that would rebuild myelin, and possibly repair or circumvent damaged nerves, are really the holy grail, because they may be able to regain abilities as fundamental as walking unassisted, living without pain or fatigue, and having reliable bladder and bowel control, that they have lost to MS,” she said.

“We’re delighted to mark our 50th anniversary by announcing this landmark funding for research aimed at areas of high need,” said Rohan Greenland, CEO, MS Australia.

“We are at a critical point where we need to supercharge our research efforts. By supporting Australian researchers such as Monash University’s Associate Professor Anneke van der Walt, Dr Daniel Merlo, Dr Steven Petratos, Dr Yi Chao Foong and Dr Hugh Reid and their important work, we have a much greater opportunity to make the big gains in MS that are still so desperately needed,” said Mr Greenland.

Associate Professor Desmond Graham, President of MS Australia, said the 2022 funding is made possible through the generosity and energy of the MS community and its many supporters in Australia and around the world: “Australia’s MS community is a great example of effective awareness and fundraising, advocacy and support; people’s passion for home-grown initiatives like The May 50K, which has people joining in more and more countries, is what drives our relentless pursuit of a cure.”

For the list of 2022 MS Australia Research Grant recipients go to: msaustralia.org.au/projects

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 render 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 (e.g., walking and hand and arm function, loss of sensation, pain, vision changes and changes to thinking and memory).

About MS Australia

MS Australia is Australia’s national multiple sclerosis (MS) not-for-profit organisation that empowers researchers to identify ways to treat, prevent and cure MS, seeks sustained and systemic policy change via advocacy, and acts as the national champion for Australia’s community of people affected by MS.

MS Australia represents and collaborates with its Member Organisations, people with MS, their carers, families and friends and various national and international bodies to:

  • Fund, coordinate, educate and advocate for MS research as part of the worldwide effort to solve MS
  • Provide the latest evidence-based information and resources
  • Help meet the needs of people affected by MS



1. Health Economic Impact of Multiple Sclerosis in Australia in 2017 – an analysis of the Australian MS Longitudinal Study (AMSLS):  MS Research Australia and Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. Accessed January 2021. Available online: https://www.msaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/health-economic-impact-of-ms-in-australia-in 2017_ms-research-australia_web.pdf

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