New Discovery Provides Hope for Improved MS Therapies

Scientists from Trinity have made an important discovery that could lead to more effective treatments for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Their work highlights the significant potential of drugs targeting a specific immune molecule (IL-17) implicated in MS.

The scientists, led by Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology, and Aoife McGinley, Postdoctoral Fellow, in Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology have published their results today in the prestigious Cell press journal, Immunity.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that affects around 2.3 million people globally and over 9,000 people in Ireland. It is associated with infiltration of immune cells into the brain and spinal cord that cause damage to nerves, leading to neurological disabilities.

However, the cause and precise immunological basis to this autoimmune disease is still unclear.

Studies in a mouse model of MS, called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), have shown that immune ‘T cells’, which secrete an immune molecule called ‘IL-17’, cause damage to the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves in the central nervous system (CNS).

Early clinical trials with antibody-based drugs that block IL-17 are showing promise in the treatment of relapsing-remitting (RR) MS and have already been licensed for the treatment of psoriasis, another common autoimmune disease.

The just-published study from Professor Mills’ research group outlines an entirely new role for IL-17 in EAE and, potentially, in MS.

Professor Mills said:

“Our team found that IL-17 plays a critical ‘priming’ role in kick-starting the disease-causing immune response that mediates the damage in EAE and MS.

The new research shows that, instead of playing a direct part in CNS pathology, a key role of IL-17 is to mobilise and activate an army of disease-causing immune cells in the lymph nodes that then migrate to the CNS to cause the nerve damage.”

Dr Aoife McGinley added:

“Crucially, our findings suggest that drugs that block IL-17 may not need to get across the blood-brain-barrier to be effective in treating MS.

So, as well as shedding new light on the importance of IL-17 as a drugs target in RR MS, our research highlights the huge potential of drugs that block IL-17 in the treatment of other autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Trinity Neuroscientist Becomes Ireland’s First FENS Kavli Scholar

Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, and the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Tomás Ryan, has been selected as Ireland’s first FENS Kavli Scholar.

He joins a network of 30 outstanding early- to mid-career European neuroscientists with the aim of improving neuroscience through scientific exchange, providing opportunities for young scientists, and facilitating dialogue between scientists, policy-makers, and society.

The network was established in 2014 through a collaboration between the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and the Kavli Foundation. Professor Ryan’s admission was recently confirmed by FENS President, Professor Barry Everitt (University of Cambridge), at the opening ceremony of the FENS Forum of Neuroscience in Berlin.

Scholars participate in several meetings per year that allow for lively discussion of a range of topics across neuroscience as well as challenges and opportunities for European neuroscientists. They then put their ideas into action, for example through opinion articles and white-paper recommendations to European stakeholders on funding schemes and other key issues, establishing childcare grants and mentoring & PhD thesis prizes that are awarded during the FENS Forum, and outreach activities with the general public about brain research.

Professor Ryan said: “I am thrilled to join such an exciting and diverse network of dynamic, young European neuroscientists. Trinity College Dublin is fundamentally a European university, and I look forward to working to represent Ireland and Trinity through neuroscience activities in Europe.”

“The FENS-Kavli network exists primarily to support basic neuroscience research and cross-disciplinary collaborations, but it also has an active role in outreach and public policy. Because of the current tumultuous political climate it has never been more important for scientists to actively engage with the public and with policy makers. The FENS-Kavli scholars have been active in doing so since the network’s inception in 2014, and these efforts will continue at national and European levels over the coming years.”