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26 Jul 2023

MRFF funds Garvan-led multiple sclerosis research

State-of-the-art genomics will drive research into how the immune system’s response to a common virus affects our risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

Tri Phan at the Garvan Institute
Tri Phan at the Garvan Institute

There is new hope for early detection and improved management of multiple sclerosis, thanks to a research consortium that has today received a funding boost by the Medical Research Future Fund.

Led by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the Open Coast-to-Coast Australian Multiple Sclerosis (OCCAMS) consortium will study how subtle differences in a person’s immune response to the common Epstein-Barr Virus may predispose them to multiple sclerosis, a debilitating condition that affects 2.8 million people worldwide. 

“This research has potentially life-changing implications,” says Professor Tri Phan, co-lead of the Precision Immunology Program at Garvan, who heads the consortium of world-leading clinicians, scientists and consumers.

“Using state-of-the-art single cell genomic technologies and machine learning, we hope to identify biomarkers in a person’s immune cell profile that can predict their risk of developing multiple sclerosis, which may lead to critical new approaches for early intervention and prevention.”  

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord, where the immune system attacks and degenerates the protective myelin sheath around nerves, leading to disruption in the signals the brain sends to the rest of the body. It can result in a range of disabling symptoms, including tremors, loss of mobility and changes to vision.

The Epstein-Barr Virus, which has infected over 90% of the worldwide adult population, increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis 32-fold. However, only a small percentage of those infected develop the disease, suggesting that an individual’s immune response to the virus may contribute to the development of multiple sclerosis.

The MRFF-funded project will use sophisticated genomics techniques to analyse the immune cell profiles of people affected by multiple sclerosis at different stages of disease progression and treatment, to identify biomarkers that can predict an individual’s risk.

 

Professor Tri Phan is a Conjoint Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, UNSW Sydney.

OCCAMS consortium partners are the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, MS Australia, 10x Genomics, Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, Stanford University, University of Birmingham, University of Munster, St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research, Monash University, the University of Sydney, and St Vincent’s Curran Foundation.