31 Mar 2023

Student awarded MS Australia scholarship to research a new therapeutic approach to brain repair

PhD student Danica Nheu has received a $105,000 scholarship from MS Australia to complete a three-year research project aimed at slowing disease progression and enabling recovery from disability. 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common neurological diseases, affecting up to 2.8 million people globally. This chronic disease is caused when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system. These attacks cause active MS lesions, and the nerve cells themselves can also be damaged, leading to life-long disability.

Dr Steven Petratos’ research team has shown that a specific protein is present within active MS lesions when nerve fibres are damaged. Danica’s project aims to propose a new method to block the protein present in the diseased brain during MS, to halt disease progression and provide recovery from disability.

“This will be the first study to utilise and validate genetically modified haematopoietic stem cells as the therapeutic delivery system to minimise and reverse the impact of MS progression,” Danica said. 

“We will use a novel means to deliver biological agents directly to areas where the disease is active to determine if this can limit the nerve damage which can cause disability. Given that clinical studies using autologous bone marrow or haematopoietic stem cells of individuals have demonstrated improved outcomes of MS, our novel technological advance of using these cells to deliver treatments for nervous system repair are timely and innovative.”

Currently, the therapeutic treatments for people living with progressive MS are extremely limited, and Danica hopes the future therapeutic potential of this technology may benefit those living with the most severe form of MS by reducing the disease burden on the brain and promoting repair in the central nervous system. 

“I am very honoured and grateful to have received the scholarship from MS Australia and for the opportunity to pursue a project I am passionate about. I am excited to be part of such an innovative project and, hopefully, contribute to making a difference in the lives of people living with MS.”

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