Researchers need to study MS in the human brain
Despite over 150 years of study, the cause of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) remains unknown. MS affects about 23,000 people in Australia and this number is increasing. Laboratory models of MS are not an exact replica of what happens in the human form of the disease so researchers need access to human tissue to truly understand MS, improve treatments and ultimately find a cure.
Although modern immunotherapy can usually suppress or prevent relapses early in the disease, there is no disease modifying treatment for people who suffer from the progressive forms of MS.
There are two main types of progressive disease:
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) affects about 50% of relapsing-remitting MS patients around 10 years from diagnosis. Here, people start off with attacks or relapses and then start to slowly deteriorate, irrespective of whether new relapses continue to occur.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) affects about 10% of people with a slow and steady deterioration from the onset of symptoms.
Understanding what causes disease progression is one of the major challenges for MS researchers.
Brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are useful for diagnosing MS and monitoring its disease activity. However, recent studies have found that many changes in the brain and spinal cord due to MS are not detectable on MRI scans. To assess the effects of MS on the central nervous system (CNS), researchers need to study the cells, genes and proteins at the microscopic or molecular level in MS tissue.
Thirty years of animal studies have led to more and more effective drugs that suppress MS relapses and new lesion formation. However, these medications only suppress and do not cure MS. This is because MS is a uniquely human disease and animal models do not accurately replicate MS as a disease, particularly its progressive forms.
Since human brain tissue is generally not available for study during life, researchers can only use post-mortem tissue donated by deceased MS patients who consented to their tissue being used for research before they passed away. Researchers need the highest quality and best characterised tissue to work on. For this reason, the MS Research Australia Brain Bank strongly encourages people with MS to register to donate post-mortem tissue by signing up as a MS Brain Donor early in their life. Each brain donation is a precious and invaluable research resource that can bring us one step closer to curing MS.