Giving News

Multiple system atrophy research fund established


Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is a rare degenerative neurologic condition that affects both men and women, usually starting in their 50s or early 60s. About 2,500 Australians are suffering with it right now.

At UNSW, Dr Michael Janitz and his six researchers are one of the few Australian scientific teams specialising in this condition.
Late last year, a member of the public from Adelaide (who wishes to remain anonymous) got in touch with Janitz, after one of their close relatives was diagnosed with MSA; they wanted to make a generous donation to Janitz’ lab, to help further his research.

“This person had come across our published work and they really felt they wanted to do something to help us continue our research into MSA,” Janitz says. “This was an absolutely new experience for me, with someone from the public contacting us directly, and I thought it was fantastic.”

Janitz’ lab uses cutting-edge molecular biology tools, such as next-generation sequencing, to understand how gene functions are affected during the onset of MSA-specific neurodegeneration.

The team recently discovered several genes that might potentially be used as molecular markers for MSA, and are investigating their potential to trigger brain tissue damage in early stages of the condition’s progression. The ultimate goal of Janitz’ lab’s research is to identify molecular targets for the diagnosis and treatment of MSA.

Currently, doctors use a combination of symptom history, physical examination and lab tests to evaluate the motor system, coordination and autonomic function to diagnose a patient with MSA.

While MSA is clinically similar to Parkinson’s disease, it has more widespread effects on the brain and body. The condition affects the cerebellum; the brain’s balance and coordination centres, and the autonomic nervous system; controlling the body’s digestion, blood pressure and temperature.

Treatments include drugs for Parkinson’s, to relieve muscle rigidity and enhance motor skills, as well as increasing salt intake, taking steroid hormones and occupational therapy.

To channel this initial donation into future MSA diagnosis and treatment, Janitz established the UNSW MSA Research Fund and hopes that the generosity of the inaugural anonymous donor will encourage other people who have relatives or friends diagnosed with this condition to come forward.

“I hope that establishing this fund will also boost MSA’s profile. No other charity currently exists in Australia focusing only on MSA, although the US and Europe have several,” Janitz says.

If you would like to support the MSA Research Fund please click here