Multiple Sclerosis Research

Dr. Una FitzGerald's research group at NUI Galway is dedicated primarily to investigating Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease of unknown cause and of which there are 8000 sufferers in Ireland. The condition affects the brain and spinal cord and can result in symptoms ranging from mild disabilities, such as problems with vision and balance, to a major losses in mobility, cognitive problems and difficulties with speech.

The group is based in the new Biomedical Sciences building in the north campus and shares lab facilities and office space with CÚRAM, the SFI medical device "super centre". Over the past ten years the FitzGerald group has been investigating the disease at a cellular level, looking at pathology such as loss of myelin (a vital component of brain that is damaged in MS), inflammation, altered brain cell function and changes in the biochemical signalling pathways.

Recently the group has developed an experimental model where brain tissue can be grown and maintained in the lab in dishes, with the help of nutrients, oxygen and added growth factors. This allows the researchers in the group to mimic the events that occur during the development of MS and study potential treatments for the disease. Indeed, the model is not only useful for studying MS but can be applied to research into a variety of neurological studies, including Parkinson's disease (PD) and is currently being used and further developed by one of Una Fitzgerald's PhD students, Enrico Bagnoli.

The group is also continuing its exploration of a signalling pathway, known as the unfolded protein response (UPR), and what influence this pathway has on development of neurological disorders. This research includes analysis of a group of UPR-associated proteins called "chaperones", and how they influence the immune system, and a cross-disease survey of the behaviour of a type of brain cell known as microglia and how the UPR may be involved in the differing roles of this cell type in health and disease.

The past year has been a good one for the Fitzgerald group in terms of scientific output, with two papers being published on the topics of iron mismanagement in the brain and algorithms for advanced imaging of brain slices, a paper under consideration about the role of signalling pathways in early development of the cerebellar cortex, and two published abstracts at the biennial international "Glia" conference in Edinburgh. One of the group's PhD students, SravanthiBandla, who conducts research on UPR-associated chaperones, has been awarded the prestigious "Dean Medal Award" from MS Ireland. This will allow her to travel to a collaborators lab in Glasgow University to learn new techniques in modelling of MS. The award, established in 2008, has only been awarded three times and this is the second time that a member of Dr FitzGerald's group has been an awardee.

Whist on sabbatical Dr FitzGerald has been fortunate to travel to the prestigious Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Being hosted by internationally-renownedneuroimmunologist and stem cell biologist Professor Claude Bernard, she is currently learning new demyelinating disease models and cutting-edge techniques in production of induced human pluripotent stem cells. These both have huge potential in development of new treatments for MS patients and the development of personalised medicine regimes.