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£200k grant for researchers to study lipids in MS

Researchers have been awarded over £200,000  to investigate changes in fat production to better understand the mechanism of multiple sclerosis (MS) and possible treatments. 

The MS Society collaborative grant will allow researchers to combine their expertise in experimental immunology and clinical neurology to explore disease mechanisms and future treatment for MS patients. The collaborative includes BRC supported Dr Elizabeth Jury (lead investigator) and colleagues Dr Rachel Farrell, Dr Ines Pineda-Torra and Dr Marsilio Adriani. 

The cause of MS is still unknown, however it is likely to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A better understanding of the role of lipids in immune cells will enable researchers to look for drugs to target  abnormal fat metabolism, a possible cause of MS.

Dr Farrell said: “This study is an exploratory study which will investigate mechanisms controlling fat levels in immune cells and how this affects immune cell function in healthy individuals and in people with MS. This study will investigate fat levels in the blood using lipidomic, metabolomic, genomic, phenotypic and functional analysis. We will investigate whether blood fat levels are impaired and trigger defects in immune cell function and explore how these abnormalities can be modified.”

Explaining the importance of the study, Dr Farrell added: “Currently, although it is recognised that fats are important in the pathogenesis of MS, we do not know how they influence disease development. To date no-one has explored how changes in fat production and regulation can affect the membrane of immune cells and how this affects immune cell function. The limited knowledge available about how membrane fats are regulated in immune cells impedes our understanding of how fats influence immune cell function. Our study aims to fill that knowledge gap and allow the development of a new therapeutic strategy for MS. By gaining a better understanding of how membrane fats affect immune cell function and what regulates the levels and type of fats in the membrane we will be well positioned to identify new treatment strategies for people with MS.”

In MS the loss of structure and function of nerve cells (neurodegeneration) is due to autoreactive immune cells that drive inflammation and myelin loss. Autoreactive immune cells have the ability to initiate an immune attack against normal tissues and cells of the body. The activation and migration of these immune cells to the brain and spinal cord is a crucial step in disease progression, which is guided by changes on the surface of immune cells (the plasma membrane). 

Fats, also known as lipids, are important for the structure of the plasma membrane. Abnormalities in various fat pathways have previously been described in MS and therapeutic agents that alter fat metabolism have been shown to regulate the course of the disease. The mechanisms by which this occurs are poorly understood, however this grant will help in gaining a better insight into MS and patient care.