Funding flags hope for MS treatment and prevention

University of Newcastle

A Newcastle researcher is among 22 Australian scientists who will share in $3m of MS Australia funding, designed to boost the fight against the increasing and accelerating disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Alexandre Xavier of the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute has been awarded a three-year $225,000 postdoctoral fellowship to explore how epigenetics influence MS.

MS is a very complex disease, caused by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Dr Xavier said genes could behave differently without changing the DNA sequence; known as epigenetics. One of the main mechanisms of epigenetics is DNA methylation, where a chemical modification occurs and as methyl group is added to the DNA sequence.

Dr Alexandre Xavier will investigate how epigenetics interacts with genetics (DNA sequence) and how genes are expressed in the context of MS. He will use different statistical modelling methods to understand how epigenetics affects MS onset, disease progression and severity.

MS is also known to behave differently in males and females. To explain why, Dr Xavier and his team will investigate how biological sex influences DNA methylation and MS. They will study DNA methylation on X and Y chromosomes and determine how it may cause differences in severity and incidence observed in MS.

Finally, the team will map all the interactions between the genetic code, DNA methylation and gene expression originating from the most important region of the genome for MS, the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC).

The 22 MS-focused projects, including studies that examine family genetics, the impact of diet on brain health, and the repair and regeneration of cells, have the potential to lead to significant advances in treatment and prevention, and in finding cures for MS.

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