New MS research will investigate whether drug treatment makes a long-term difference

New MS research will investigate whether drug treatment makes a long-term difference

A world-first investigation into whether existing drug treatments make any long-term difference for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of a host of new MS research projects commencing at the University of Tasmania's Menzies Institute for Medical Research.

The leader of the project, Professor Bruce Taylor, said drug therapies had been available to people with MS in Australia since 1996, and were effective in reducing disease relapses or attacks of MS.

"However what is not known is whether these drugs alter the natural history of MS. We will be trying to find out whether those on treatment acquire less disability over the course of their disease than those who are untreated," Professor Taylor said.

Professor Taylor is a neurologist and has been researching MS for 20 years. The project, which will receive $180,000 funding over two years from MS Research Australia, will compare disease outcomes in Australia, where over 95% of people with relapsing remitting MS are treated, with New Zealand, where fewer than 20% are treated, and often much later in the disease.

Menzies has been building expertise in MS for two decades, and in 2016 will receive new grants totalling around $500,000 for three years, thanks to invaluable contributions from MS Research Australia and its supporters.

The Director of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Professor Alison Venn, said the funding from MS Research Australia was enabling Menzies to research the disease in a highly effective multi-disciplinary way - from clinical, biomedical and population health perspectives. She said this funding support meant that established researchers could continue to pursue productive lines of inquiry while others opened up new areas of investigation.

This is the case with Dr Carlie Cullen, who has been awarded the MS Research Australia Penn Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, $207,000 over three years to trial a safe non-invasive MS therapy called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. In MS the cells that insulate nerves are lost and, as the disease progresses, the usual ability for new insulating cells to take their place is compromised. MS Research Australia received funding support for this Fellowship from the Penn Foundation and MS Angels (Sydney).  

"Massaging the brain's electrical activity can promote the replacement of the cells that are lost in MS," Dr Cullen said. "My research is primarily focussing on identifying the most effective patterns of stimulation to drive brain repair. The data we are gathering now will be important in the future as we try to move this work towards clinical trials."

Dr Susan Dobson has been awarded a Betty Cuthbert Postgraduate Scholarship, co-funded by MS Research Australia and the National Health and Medical Research Council, of $84,800 over three years to investigate the risk factors for primary progressive MS, which accounts for about 10 per cent of MS cases and is characterised by an increase in disability from the onset of the disease, without remission or relapse.

Professor Heinrich Korner has been awarded $14,000 for one year and will continue research into whether known MS risk genes involved in the vitamin D pathway may be able to influence the immune system in MS.

Dr Cynthia Honan, from the University of Tasmania's Faculty of Health, has been awarded a $22,000 grant for one year to look at the nature of cognitive fatigue in MS.

Menzies also hosts Australia's largest study into multiple sclerosis, the Australian MS Longitudinal Study, in partnership with MS Research Australia. The AMSLS has been running for 15 years and has approximately 3500 active participants who are living with MS.

 "The research in to MS happening at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research is world class, and MS Research Australia is very proud to be supporting their ongoing efforts to improve outcomes for people with MS. We look forward to some excellent results coming out of these projects over the next few years," Dr Matthew Miles, CEO MS Research Australia said.


MS Research Australia is holding a MS research public lecture on Saturday 30th April in South Hobart. Local MS experts will present updates on recent research progress, new and emerging treatments and research into rehabilitation and symptom management. This public lecture is FREE of charge, however registration is required, visit


Professor Bruce Taylor will be available for interview on April 27 at 10am at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.


Miranda Harman

Marketing and Communications Manager
Menzies Institute for Medical Research
University of Tasmania


Phone: +61 427 199 562