The first recipient of the grant is Ms Elien GRAJCHEN (UHasselt). Her sponsor is Prof. Dr Jerome HENDRICKS, Associate Professor of immunology and biochemistry at the Biomedical Research Institute, University of Hasselt. The choice of Ms GRAJCHEN confirms the quality of the current research team at UHasselt and will motivate young people to pursue their studies or a career in science.
The research group of Prof Hendriks aims to elucidate the impact of a disturbed lipid metabolism on inflammatory and repair processes in multiple sclerosis (MS). During MS, infiltrated macrophages and microglia degrade the myelin sheath surrounding axons, so called demyelination. As myelin is essential for axonal conduction, demyelination leads to conduction failure and clinical symptoms such as loss of vision and muscle weakness. Myelin consists for the major part of lipids of which some, such as cholesterol and fatty acids, also have important immune regulatory functions. In MS, a disturbed cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism is observed. However, little is known about the cause of this disturbance and the impact it has on disease progression. The group of Prof Hendriks determines the involvement of cholesterol and fatty acids in central nervous system (CNS) inflammation, demyelination and repair of damaged myelin sheaths. Interestingly, certain dietary components can affect CNS lipid metabolism and the function of resident brain cells. Therefore, another line of research is aimed at establishing the impact of dietary components on disease progression in MS.
The goal of the project
The PhD project focuses on the effect of myelin uptake on a type of immune cell, namely the macrophage. The brain lesions that are typically present in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients are characterized by excessive infiltration of immune cells, being mainly macrophages. On the one hand, these cells are described as malignant cells that help to destroy the isolating layer of myelin that is important for proper nerve conduction, leading to brain damage and paralysis. On the other hand, researchers have reported that macrophages also aid in the healing process of MS patients. It remains unclear which factors determine the role they play in MS pathology. Our findings show that although myelin initially induces beneficial properties in macrophages, chronic uptake of myelin impairs these beneficial properties and instead stimulates their harmful features.
During my PhD I will investigate the pathways that are involved in the myelin induced changes and target these pathways to prevent the induction of harmful properties, ultimately decreasing improving tissue repair and the patient's quality of life.