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Celebrating 10 years

People support Research Platform via Scholarships and Fellowships

6th December, 2008

People support Research Platform via Scholarships and Fellowships

Interview with Dr Tobias Merson, Postdoctoral Research Officer and MSRA Betty Cuthbert Fellowship recipient, Multiple Sclerosis Group, Florey Neuroscience Institutes

 

 

Transcript of interview

People Support Research Platform via Scholarships and Fellowships

Interview with Dr Tobias Merson, Postdoctoral Research Officer and MSRA Betty Cuthbert Fellowship recipient. Multiple Sclerosis Group, Florey Neuroscience Institutes

Research Title: Studying the repair of de-myelinated brain and spinal cord – a cutting edge approach

Currently, the vast majority of research internationally relies upon understanding how the immune system is involved in MS. Although this is a very important part of the disease we don’t actually know whether this is the earliest event that occurs in MS.

Research in Australia relatively recently has identified that the death of a cell-type in the brain called an oligodendrocyte seems to be one of the first causes, or one of the first incidents in MS. So, what we’re trying to achieve is to model the death of this cell – the oligodendrocyte – in animals, and then understand how that can affect the immune system, and how that interacts to produce a secondary disease.

An overview: Cell death, the first incidence of MS?

A promising area of research in MS is understanding how stem cells in the brain can contribute to repair. By stem cells, I mean cells that are very immature and they’re almost like a cell that’s retained from an embryo, if you like. They’re what we call an undifferentiated, or immature cell, and they have the capacity to divide and respond to cues in the environment and in the brain or elsewhere where we find stem cells. In MS, like other neurodegenerative diseases, we find that stem cells, at least in animal models as we understand it at the moment, stem cells are able to respond to the cues, the change in the environment, that’s induced by the disease. What we’re trying to understand is the process by which these stem cells actually can give rise to new oligodendrocytes to replace those that are lost normally in disease. So we know that already in MS, and in animal models of the disease that we have a certain degree of recovery, and this recovery is due to a population of stem cells in the brain and the spinal cord, which are able to divide and mature and replace these lost cells. They can change from this immature state to a mature oligodendrocyte that can recover some of the lost cells. But the mechanism of inducing these cells to start to divide and mature is really unknown, and we’re trying to understand that process.

The future of MS research in Australia

I think it’s a very exciting area to be working in, and I think there’s a lot of hope. The more that we do, the more we understand. It’s always difficult to know when the cure is going to come. What we can say is the work that we’re doing we think is fundamental to getting closer to answering those fundamental questions. The future is pretty bright, as long as we have the funding there to support that work.

Importance of fellowship funding

The support that MSRA has provided me is fundamental to my work. The fellowship scheme has essentially provided my salary to undertake my works. It also assists greatly in establishing my career in research, and particularly in MS research. So I think supporting the research itself in terms of research costs is fundamental, as is investing in people as well.