Multiple Sclerosis research

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects 1 in every 1500 New Zealanders. It is a disease caused by immune-mediated nerve degeneration leading to impaired vision, coordination, and paralysis. There is no cure, and the current disease-modifying treatments have variable efficacy in reducing the neurological and physical disability caused by MS.

Immune cells, also known as T helper cells are responsible for targeting the protective sheath of the nerve for destruction while another immune cell, the macrophage, allows the T cells to enter into the central nervous system (CNS). Macrophages are multifunctional immune cells and are key mediators of the inflammatory process. As such, these cells are one of the main targets of our research.

During inflammation, the immune “climate” of an organism shapes the type of immune response that develops and directs immune cells such as macrophages to promote or resolve disease.

Our research

We have found that treatments that alter a macrophage’s state of activation and thus alter the immune ‘climate’ can prevent CNS inflammation and progressive paralysis. We are actively investigating the pathway by which these macrophage-altering treatments prevent disease. Identification of disease-inhibiting pathways may uncover much-needed new therapeutic targets to inhibit or reduce the severity of MS.

A second research area in which we are involved focuses on finding alternative drugs to treat MS.

Recently our laboratory has found that drugs that prevent cellular proliferation (i.e. many anti-cancer compounds) or that modulate the immune system (immunomodulatory drugs) are also effective at reducing the incidence and severity of MS in a disease model.

We are investigating the potential of these classes of drugs for treating MS with the hope that the use of drugs, which are already in use clinically or are in the process of gaining FDA approval for clinical use, will accelerate the path from drug design to clinical application.


We collaborate with the following researchers:

  • Prof John Miller, A/Prof. Peter Northcote - Victoria University of Wellington
  • Dr Diane Kenwright - Capital & Coast District Health Board
  • A/Prof Bronwen Connor - University of Auckland
  • Dr Jacqueline Orian - La Trobe University
  • Prof Frank Brombacher - University of Cape Town
  • Dr Scott Harding - Capital & Coast District Health Board