This year, the Ian Ballard Travel Awards were awarded to two promising researchers in Queensland and Western Australia. The Ian Ballard Award is intended to enable grant recipients to undertake international travel with the aim of extending on their MS research specialty and collaborating with international experts. The award is named after Ian Ballard, the founder of MS Research Australia’s grassroots fundraising campaign Foundation 5 Million.
Dr Hannah Gullo, from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Queensland, has been awarded an Ian Ballard Travel Award for 2016 to spend four weeks at the Kessler Foundation in the USA, working with Professor John De Luca and his colleagues.
Professor De Luca is internationally renowned for his work in memory and information processing, and recently presented a Research Update webinar speaking about why taking part in mentally challenging activities may have benefits for people with MS by helping to prevent or slow the accumulation of cognitive difficulties over time.
Dr Gullo is currently conducting a randomised controlled trial to assess the use of memory techniques using Smartwatch technology, and this trip will enable her to consult with international experts in the field of cognitive training in MS and other disorders, and combine her expertise with researchers from the Kessler Foundation. Dr Gullo aims to test a range of novel methods to improve memory and thinking skills in people with MS.
The second Ian Ballard Award was to Dr Lucinda Black from Curtin University in Perth. Although vitamin D is an established risk factor for MS, it is not yet clear which components of the vitamin D pathway are the most important, and whether these are also influenced by skin tone or ethnicity.
Dr Black has received an Ian Ballard Award with support from the MS Society of Western Australia, to assist her work investigating which vitamin D metabolites (produced when vitamin D is broken down) are the most useful to measure vitamin D levels in relation to MS risk.
With this grant, Dr Black will travel to the laboratories of Dr Annette Langer-Gould at Kaiser Permanente in California, USA, to undertake a two week training to analyse vitamin D in samples from the US based MS Sunshine Study and the Australian Ausimmune study. She will also discuss her work on the Ausimmune data with experts at Kaiser Permanente in order to determine the most appropriate vitamin D metabolites for measurement in the MS Sunshine Study.
Dr Langer-Gould recently visited Australia as one of the invited keynote speakers at the MS Research Australia Progress in MS Research Conference October 2015, to speak about her work studying vitamin D in multi-ethnic MS cohorts.
These grants are a valuable opportunity for researchers to forge new directions and strengthen Australia’s place in the international MS research field. We look forward to excellent collaborative outcomes arising from these travel experiences.