A scientific breakthrough could provide a greater understanding of what causes multiple sclerosis (MS) and help target the autoimmune disease as soon as it develops.
Researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) and the University of Wollongong (UOW) have been studying the brains of individuals with and without MS, focusing on the cerebellum, a part of the brain that regulates motor movements and is particularly affected by the disease.
UOW’s Professor Roger Truscott and Dr Michael Friedrich studied a key protein in the coating of nerve cells (known as myelin basic protein or MBP), which naturally breaks down as part of the ageing process. This decomposition does not normally affect the myelin’s ability to work as an insulator of the electrical pathways in the brain. However, in people with MS, the protein breaks down differently.
“The structure of the MBP from MS patients had two regions where specific changes have accumulated. We hypothesize, based on the novel structures formed here, that these two regions provoke an autoimmune response,” said Professor Truscott.
MS is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own nerves. It affects more than 23,000 people in Australia and is often diagnosed while patients are in their 30s. There is no cure and the drugs available typically target the body’s response, rather than the cause of the disease.
Professor Truscott said this discovery could represent a breakthrough in identifying the cause of MS and thus help researchers work toward preventing the disease.
“It is important to emphasise that this is not a cure for MS, however for the first time we have a target,” he said.
Read more about this breakthrough study here. Story credit: University of Wollongong newsroom.
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