Nerve fibres in the central nervous system are protected by myelin – a sheath of fatty material that insulates the nerves so electrical messages sent from the brain can travel efficiently to the rest of the body. In multiple sclerosis (MS), the body’s immune system attacks and damages the myelin, leaving nerves exposed and unable to transmit messages. As the myelin deteriorates and becomes scarred, communication between the body and the brain breaks down further, causing a range of symptoms such as loss of motor function, changes in memory and mood, and other nervous symptoms like dizziness and neuralgia (nerve pain).
Researchers are yet to determine the cause of multiple sclerosis, although genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role. Although treatment options are available to manage symptoms, there is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis. Because symptoms vary from patient to patient and are usually mild to begin with, diagnosis may take years. By this time, the disease may have caused significant damage to a patient’s body.
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Multiple sclerosis research at Garvan
While multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system, it is also an autoimmune disease. Through the HOPE Research Program, researchers at Garvan are collaborating with other scientists to identify the root cause of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis. We are revealing how immune tolerance checkpoints break down in autoimmune diseases, causing cells in the immune system to attack tissue in the body, like myelin. We are also investigating the role of B cells – a type of white blood cell that creates antibodies – in multiple sclerosis, using cutting-edge intravital microscopy.