Turning off toxic T cells in MS clinical trial

Switching off T cells before they begin to damage the nervous system is the basis of an Australian therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS), which is expected to begin clinical trials by the end of 2017.

Developed by researchers at Victoria University in western Melbourne and the University of Patras in Greece, it brings together peptides, or protein fragments, with a biochemical delivery system already shown to be effective in cancer vaccine clinical trials.

In MS, a condition which affects more than 23,000 Australians and two million people worldwide, the body’s immune system T-cells attack myelin, the fatty sheath that protects the central nervous system and helps nerve impulse transmission.

“We don’t want to get rid of T cells,” says Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos of the University’s Centre for Chronic Disease.

“We want to switch them off so they no longer secrete the toxic granules that break down myelin or the cytokines—chemical messengers—that recruit other destructive cells to the site.”

Vasso came to Victoria University from the Austin and Burnet Research Institutes, where she was head of the Immunology and Vaccine Laboratory, following work at Oxford University and the Scripps Institute in San Diego. She was instrumental in developing the world’s first vaccines against breast and ovarian cancer, which are injected and delivered using sugars as a carrier.

This delivery system attracted peptide chemist Professor John Matsoukas and his colleagues in Greece, who had synthesised a series of compounds to modulate the behaviour of T cells.

“We will start the trials with one peptide, but we’re investigating combining several into a cocktail,” Vasso says.

She is also working on developing vaccines against prostate cancer, mental health conditions such as depression, and even as blockers of crystal methamphetamine, the drug known as ice.

The team wants to stop the T cells from secreting toxic granules. Credit: Vasso Apostolopoulos

Banner image credit: MediaXpress / Victoria University

For more information:

Victoria University
Teyah Marney
+61 3 9919 5577