The MS Research Australia Ian Ballard Travel Award has this year been awarded to an early career researcher, Dr Cheryl Li, who will travel overseas to learn techniques for analysing DNA extracted from brain tissue. Dr Li works with Associate Professor Michael Buckland, the co-director of the MS Research Australia Brain Bank, based at the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.
Dr Li’s work involves analysing genes that are active in the brain tissue from people who had MS, in order to understand what may be causing the disease. Using tissue donated to the Brain Bank, Dr Li aims to use specialised analysis techniques to study the genes that are switched on and off in the brains of people with MS and compare this with brain tissue donated by healthy individuals.
Dr Li will travel to the laboratory of Professor Jonathan Mill at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, who is a world-renowned expert in the genetic study of post-mortem tissue samples.
While visiting Professor Mill’s lab, Dr Li will undertake extensive DNA profiling of the tissue from 12 people with MS who donated their brains to the UK Brain Bank. Dr Li will study the tissue from a specific region of the brain – the thalamus – which has been shown to be important in MS.
Brain donation is an incredibly valuable gift that people with MS can make, to enable new breakthroughs in medical research. Dr Li’s project will help us to understand the genes that may be incorrectly switched on or off in the brain of people with MS, in order to identify what may trigger the disease, and also to identify new targets for the development of innovative new treatments. This work highlights the value of studying human tissue to deepen our understanding of the genetics of MS and how this affects the structure and function of the brain and spinal cord.