Multiple sclerosis affects 3,500 New Zealand families.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.
It is characterised by immune-mediated nerve degeneration, leading to impaired vision, coordination and paralysis.
There is no cure, and while disease-modifying drugs are available, they are often effective in only a subset of individuals with MS.
Malaghan Institute Research Associate Dr Anne La Flamme, an Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, leads a research programme investigating different strategies for optimising currently available MS treatments, as well as the development of novel agents for future therapies.
Dr Anne La Flamme's primary research interest is immunoregulation - mechanisms that regulate the immune system to prevent autoimmune diseases such as MS. Her research team is also investigating new targets for future MS therapies.
A commonly prescribed agent for treating relapsing-remitting MS is glatiramer acetate (GA, also known as Copaxone). Recent work by Malaghan researchers and other MS research groups using murine models of MS, has shown that GA alters the activation state of monocytes, a type of white blood cell; and of microglia, a related immune cell found in the brain.
In collaboration with Dr Scott Harding and Dr David Abernathy from Wellington Hospital, PhD student Dr Delgersetseg Chuluundorj and Dr Anne La Flamme undertook a detailed analysis of the physiological effects of GA on the activation of monocytes from patients with MS, and from healthy volunteers. This information will help form the basis of a model that could be used to predict if a patient will respond to GA treatment.
Intravenous gammaglobulin is another immune-modifying therapy used to treat MS, albeit with limited success. Interestingly, Dr Chulunndorj’s studies showed that many, but not all of the effects of intravenous gammaglobulin on monocyte activation were similar to those induced by GA. Moreover, she found that the two compounds worked well together. This finding has positive implications for patients who do not respond to either agent alone.
Complementing this work is that of Dr Jacquie Harper, who has continued immunosuppression research started by Associate Professor Thomas Bäckström, as part of her greater Arthritis and Inflammation research programme.
Collectively this research is providing significant insight into the aberrant immune responses that lead to MS, and the development of novel therapeutic treatments that can be used to delay or prevent its progression.