Challenging Assumptions

Brienne McKenzie (in Widen)
PhD student Brienne McKenzie is researching how specialized immune cells within the brain can protect against brain damage caused by MS. "We assume that a strong immune response in the brain is damaging, but it can be protective," says McKenzie.

Her project looks at an inflammatory molecule long assumed to worsen MS-induced brain damage. However, McKenzie's research in non-human models suggests that this molecule may in fact protect the brain from damage.

"We have shown that when we use drugs to artificially induce the brain to make more of the molecule, a milder form of the disease develops. This research suggests that the inflammatory molecules in MS are not necessarily harmful."

Her future research will examine how we can use this new information to develop medical treatments to help MS patients. "Ultimately, we'll try to mimic what the body does, in the form of a drug," says McKenzie.