Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks its own body. This aberrant response to the body’s own cells, tissues and organs, resulting in inflammation and damage, are hallmarks of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity affects millions of people worldwide, including over one million Australians. These autoimmune diseases range from type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, to rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the number of medications used to manage these autoimmune diseases, there is an ongoing need for the development of new and improved treatments, particularly for complex diseases such as MS.
MS is a debilitating autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. It affects the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves. In MS, the immune system destroys nerve axons and myelin and MS sufferers experience impeded vision, balance, muscle control and basic bodily functions. There is still no cure for MS.
Professor Claude Bernard from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University led an Australian research team developing novel nanomedicines to suppress the autoimmune response in diseases such as MS.
With support from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, Monash University partnered with the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre (AIMSRC) in India. Monash University and AIMSRC jointly conducted the research using world class research facilities, technology, expertise and materials.
Some of the key outcomes of the collaborative research project were the success of certain engineered proteins significantly blunting the clinical signs of paralysis, as well as the autoimmune response to a model of MS in mice. Researchers noted that the same application of the engineered proteins significantly decreased the inflammation and destruction of nerve cells.
The research was key in leading to the development of better medicines that improve the lifestyles and disease prognosis of patients with autoimmune diseases.
The project enabled key researchers in both countries to deepen scientific collaboration, with an Indian student spending several weeks learning the immunological techniques used at Monash University. The joint collaboration also facilitated the sharing of chemical analysis techniques used in Monash laboratories. The novel research findings were published in a number of international scientific journals and led to filing of patents. It also led to further work with companies interested in the research results. Importantly, a patent arising from this work means that further exploration of commercialisation opportunities is possible and currently in progress.
The joint research effort successfully bridged the fields of immunology, autoimmunity and neurosciences, and in so doing formed an important step toward improved therapeutics for the treatment of MS and quality of life for sufferers, and future research into treatments for other autoimmune disorders.
Australian Team Leader:
Professor Claude Bernard, Monash University
Indian Team Leader:
Professor Manzoor Koyakutty, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre