Research to understand how brain stem cells restore nerve cell function in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been given a major funding boost. Dr Tobias Merson, head of the Myelin Plasticity Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health has been awarded a prestigious Future Fellowship by the Australian Research Council (ARC) to support his research into the development and repair of myelin which is lost in patients with MS.
Myelin is the fatty insulation that surrounds the axons of nerve cells. Without it, the electrical signaling along axons slows down, resulting in many of the symptoms experienced by people with MS. These symptoms often begin with blurred vision or numbness in the arms or legs, but with time can become more severe and lead to variable degrees of paralysis as Dr Merson recently explained in The Conversation.
The funding provided by the ARC Future Fellowship will enable Dr Merson to continue his research into myelin regeneration and how this could be optimised to restore nerve cell function, and possibly reverse the symptoms of MS. His team has previously revealed that a particular type of brain stem cell, that was largely overlooked until now, outperforms other stem cells in its ability to regenerate healthy myelin. Understanding how different types of brain stem cells differ in their ability to replenish myelin will guide the development of new strategies to restore normal nerve cell function.
Dr Merson also plans to study the relationship between myelin and learning of new skills. His team will explore the idea that myelin remodeling helps improve brain function by refining the speed and timing of electrical conduction between different parts of the brain, a process that is likely to be disrupted in diseases such as MS.
Dr Merson was one of 50 Future Fellows announced this week, including SCA CI Associate Professor Christine Wells, as part of $38.6 million worth of funding provided through the Australian Research Council to support research outcomes that will improve the lives of everyday Australians.
Dr Merson receives funding by the National Health and Medical Research Council and is an Associate Investigator in Stem Cells Australia.