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05 Oct 2018

MS Research Australia funding to spur single-cell research

Dr Dan Suan (Immunology Division) has been awarded an Incubator Grant from MS Research Australia to explore the population of immune cells that go ‘rogue’ and attack the brain in people with multiple sclerosis.

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research congratulates Dr Dan Suan, who has been awarded a grant from MS Research Australia, to accelerate his research into the underlying cause of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Suan, who is a clinical immunologist and a researcher in Garvan’s Immunology Division, will use the funds to study how the immune cells in people with MS go ‘rogue’ and attack the brain and spinal cord. The team will use the single-cell genomic sequencing capabilities of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics to study individual immune cells and learn how to differentiate normal cells from the rogue cells that cause disease.

“Many people don’t realise that MS is an autoimmune disease,” says Dr Suan, “but what’s happening in MS is that a small part of the immune system becomes confused and attacks the protective insulation around nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. Ultimately, MS causes sufficient damage to neural networks to disrupt communication signals inside the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the body.”

“We think that the ‘rogue’ population of cells first emerge from the immune system, before migrating to the brain and causing the lesions that are characteristic of MS,” says Dr Suan. “If we can track the identity and origins of these ‘rogue’ clones, we can probe them for unique weaknesses that may be developed as therapeutic targets in the future.”

Dr Suan will receive a one-year $25,000 grant to conduct his research. He says, “I’m very excited to have been awarded this grant. It will allow us to accelerate our research program with the core goals of improving the diagnosis and treatment of MS. Through the broader HOPE Research project, discoveries made in MS will also inform our understanding of a wider range of other human autoimmune diseases.”

Dr Matthew Miles, CEO of MS Research Australia said, “This is exciting research which we are very pleased to be supporting. It is hoped that this research will lead to better diagnostic tests and targeted treatments. This work provides great hope to those with, or at risk of developing MS.”

Multiple sclerosis is one of 36 autoimmune diseases that are being studied at Garvan as part of HOPE Research, a long-term project that is aiming to uncover the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases using novel genomic approaches. Dr Suan is one of the principal investigators of this major research program.