Western Australian-led research to understand an apparent link between the Epstein-Barr Virus and multiple sclerosis (MS) has attracted a grant of almost $900,000 from the US-based National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Despite an enormous worldwide research effort, what causes MS is unknown, but it is thought infection with the Epstein-Barr virus increases the risk of developing this neurodegenerative disease later in life. 

Epstein-Barr viruswhich spreads through saliva, causes infectious mononucleosis – often called the kissing disease.  

The very welcome funding from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will be used to explore the connection between MS and Epstein-Barr virus,” said Professor Allan Kermode who is the Chief Investigator and leads the Demyelinating Diseases Research group at WA’s Perron Institute and Centre for Molecular Medicine and Innovative Therapeutics (CMMIT) at Murdoch University

“The blood brain barrier protects the central nervous system from lymphocyteswhite blood cells that determine specific immune responses to infectious microorganisms and other foreign substances,” Professor Kermode said. 

“In MS, lymphocytes enter the central nervous system, and it is thought they attack self-antigens (cellular proteins) in the brain, mistaking them for the Epstein-Barr virus.

“In this project, we will look at the lymphocytes present in the damaged areas of the brain from donated post-mortem samples of an individual with MS.

The aim will be to determine whether the antigens the lymphocytes are targeting are a self-antigens or foreign intruders.  

“We will then screen individuals recently diagnosed with MS to determine whether we can see these lymphocytes in the blood before they go into the central nervous system.  

“New technological advancements are allowing us to work towards identifying the cause or causes of MS and the information we discover will help us develop new, moreeffective treatments,” Professor Kermode said. 

The project is a national and international collaboration between the Perron Institute, Harry Perkins Institute, The University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, University of Sydney, Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in the USA and Perth-based biotech company Biotome. 

Perron Institute Chief Investigators are Dr Belinda Kaskow (CIB), Postdoctoral Scientist at Perron Institute and CMMIT, and Dr Xiaonan Zhong (CIE), PhD Student (UWA/Perron Institute), and Associate Investigator Dr Marzena Fabis-Pedrini, Senior Research Fellow and MS Research Coordinator at the Perron Institute and CMMIT.

The project is also supported by the Eyewall Foundation. 

Image: Prof Allan Kermode, Dr Belinda Kaskow and Dr Marzena Pedrini in the Perron Institute lab.