Monday, October 16, 2006

Funding kicks off new treatments for diabetes and multiple sclerosis

A $5.23 million research program that will combine stem cell therapies with a rebuilding of a key part of the immune system – the thymus – to treat diseases such as autoimmune gastritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes is being pursued at Monash University following today's announcement that it has been funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council's Programs scheme.

The Minister for Health and Ageing, The Hon.Tony Abbott today announced funding for Monash University of more than $43 million through the NHMRC's Program, Project and Career Development schemes.

This included funding for nine Research Fellowships, two Practitioner Fellowships, two enabling grants - $2.5 million for the National Non-Human Primate Breeding and Research Facility and $1.84 million for the Australian Mouse Brain Mapping Consortium – and an $822,000 equipment grant.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Edwina Cornish said the NHMRC funding announced today was testament to the innovative medical research being pursued at Monash.

Professor Richard Boyd, principal investigator on the stem cell program, said diseases such as autoimmune gastritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes arose because a "rogue" immune system had turned inwards to attack the body's organs. "The organ destruction follows from recognition by the immune system of specific molecules – insulin in the case of diabetes, and a protein called MOG in the case of MS - in the organs," Professor Boyd said.

"These "autoimmune" diseases are incurable and controlled mainly by long-term administration of substances that suppress the immune system, often with serious side-effects. A rational approach is to render the rogue immune system harmless by removing the immune cells that recognize these particular molecules," he said. "We plan to use stem cell therapies combined with a rejuvenated immune system to treat these diseases without the need for excessive immunosuppressive regimes that are detrimental to health and well-being."

The same technologies should be applicable to minimising or even preventing the rejection of foreign transplants, Professor Boyd said.

Other projects funded today that will be pursued at Monash include a study of Australian box jellyfish venoms, an investigation of whether coeliac disease causes a loss of coordination or cognitive impairment, the factors that affect knee structure in healthy women, and a trial of the effect of substantial weight loss on obstructive sleep apnoea.