If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile


There are no shortcuts in solving the MS puzzle

While trying to unlock the genetic puzzle that causes multiple sclerosis (MS), Professor Claude Bernard and his research team attempt a multi-pronged approach to understanding and potentially repairing, the damage inflicted by the disease.

Promising pre-clinical data have already contributed to the existing knowledge pertaining to the cause and physiopathology of this degenerative disease.

"Our research is very focused on the patient and on regenerative medicine but in order to do that you still need to have good basic research," says Claude, who is Deputy Director of Monash Immunology Stem Cell Laboratories (MISCL).

Neurons, astrocytes (the supporting cells), and oligodendrocytes (cells that produce myelin) are important brain cells. Myelin creates an insulating sheath around the axon (or cell 'conductor') preventing the possibility of a neural 'short-circuit'. The axon and the surrounding myelin are the main targets of MS

Newly diagnosed or potential MS patients are unlikely or unable to donate brain tissue samples, so biopsies taken from living patients are usually not entirely representative of 'classic MS'.

Claude's research team have now been able to produce mature neural cells from patients with MS. By taking a piece of skin, the group can revert skin cells (also known as fibroblasts), into stem cells. These cells can further be differentiated into mature brain cells, such as oligodendrocytes or neurons. This is an important development in MS research because of its potential clinical utility for disease modelling as well as cell therapeutics and drug screening.

Indeed, if it is found that the cells which assemble the myelin sheath around the axon are defective in MS, then mature brain cells generated in the laboratory could be critically important to screen drugs aimed at correcting such a problem. The group is also studying whether the MS-derived neuronal cells have some anomalies with regard to their electrophysiological and biological properties.

The use of another type of stem cell represents yet another approach to the disease. Mesenchymal stem cells, which Claude likens to 'firemen', migrate towards cellular damage and tissue inflammation in various parts of the body. When these cells are transplanted into an animal model of MS, they can suppress the immune response that leads to the development of the disease. Moreover, these cells can be modified by genetic manipulation, so that not only can they prevent the destruction of brain tissue, but also help repair the damaged tissue.

A major obstacle in repairing existing damage in autoimmune diseases like MS is the existence of hostile cells within the immune system, which are primed to attack the brain cells. Finding a way to 'delete' those cells that cause the problem in first instance, has led Claude and his colleagues to the revolutionary notion of 'reprogramming' the immune system.

The translation of the laboratory work performed by Claude's group to the clinic may not be for tomorrow. However, it may in the long term help MS patients that are not responsive to current therapeutic approaches.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being