Murdoch University researchers have received funding to investigate the link between the Epstein-Barr virus infection, more commonly known as glandular fever or the ‘kissing disease’, and the debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Dr David Nolan, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute of Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IIID) at Murdoch University, is the lead researcher and recipient of a $150,000 two-year project grant from MS Research Australia.
Dr Matthew Miles, Chief Executive Officer, MS Research Australia said more than 23,000 people in Australia suffer from MS which is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, affecting the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
“Through the research funding Dr Nolan will be able to investigate how a common virus interacts with the immune system of people with MS,” Dr Miles said.
“His research will provide greater understanding of the causes of MS, and will help to guide the development of potential new monitoring and treatment options.”
Dr Nolan said this research follows on from a previous project that was funded by the McCusker Foundation and looked at the risk factors, including viral infections, on the development of MS.
“It appears that there is a strong association between the Epstein-Barr virus and MS but it’s too early to say if it is the cause,” Dr Nolan said.
“We know that the Epstein-Barr virus specifically infects immune cells that produce antibodies, B cells, essentially hiding away within the immune system.
“For reasons that are still poorly understood, it seems that those affected by MS have an abnormal response to this virus and that the nervous system might be unintentionally targeted by the immune system as part of this response.
“If we can find a way to identify these infected B cells then we can study them in more detail, and also investigate the possibility of targeting our treatment approaches to these particular cells.
“The long-term goal is to halt the progression of MS by developing treatment strategies that interfere with the underlying disease mechanism.”
Over the next two years the research will focus on developing approaches that can identify the cells that are infected with Epstein-Barr virus.
“The research funding gives us a chance to make a real step forward in understanding the basis of Multiple Sclerosis and therefore improving both disease monitoring and treatment,” Dr Nolan said.
“We are thankful for the opportunity provided to us by MS Research Australia to continue with this exciting work.”