Episode 18

Pioneering Progress: Insights into MS Australia’s iconic research conference

In this episode of “The Raw Nerve,” CEO of MS Australia, Rohan Greenland and the Head of Research, Dr. Julia Morahan, discuss the upcoming Progress in MS Research conference, highlighting key themes, international and Australian speakers, and showcase groundbreaking research in areas such as health behaviour, myelin repair, and neuroimmunology.

This episode emphasises the conference’s unique format, which includes opportunities for the MS community to actively participate. The title “Pioneering Progress: Insights into MS Australia’s iconic Research Conference” perfectly captures the essence of the discussion.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Raw Nerve, the official podcast of MS Australia, a conversation space for all things multiple sclerosis. Join us for news and views on the latest research, treatments, and advocacy efforts. As well as candid and informative interviews with our community, those living with MS, and their families and carers, together with leading clinicians, researchers, and advocates. 

Rohan Greenland:

I’m Rohan Greenland, I’m the CEO of MS Australia, and this is The Raw Nerve. Today, we’re taking a look at MS Australia’s iconic Progress in MS Research conference. The conference is Australia’s leading event exploring innovative research into the causes, prevention, improved treatments, and ultimately, a cure for MS. This year, our conference heads to Perth for the first time and will run for three days from November the 29th through to December the 1st. And I have with me are very hardworking Head of Research, Dr Julia Morahan, who has nurtured this iconic event for many years. Julia, who should come to this conference and why?

Julia Morahan:

Thanks, Rohan. So we’re very excited to be presenting our conference for the first time in Perth this year. And we’re really excited to welcome researchers and clinicians in the MS space and other diseases, but also people in the MS community, people living with MS, their friends, family, and carers. I think our conference is wonderful in the way that it stimulates innovative research within the Australian space, but also promotes the exchange of scientific thought within our MS research community and promotes collaboration. This year, we’re very excited to be welcoming the MS community into our conference and using it as a way to update them on the breakthroughs that have been happening in the research space, and also provide opportunities between researchers and the MS community to network.

Rohan Greenland:

Oh, that’s excellent. And in fact, there’s a very special reason why we are going to be in Perth. And there’s going to be a surprise announcement in Perth, so another reason to be at the conference. But Julia, what are the key themes and topics that are going to be addressed during the conference this year?

Julia Morahan:

So each conference has some key themes that we decide on based on the amazing research that’s been happening in Australia. And this year is no different. So we’ll be doing quite a bit of work in the health behavior and modifiable lifestyle choices in MS space. We know that people with MS are very interested in research that allows them to be empowered to take control of their disease beyond just disease-modifying therapies. So we will be focusing on those health behaviors and changes and ways that you can be as healthy as you can be living with MS.

We’ll also be talking quite a lot about the lived experience of people living with MS in terms of research and how communities and consumers can get involved in research, as well as co-design, rather than just participants in research trials. We’ll also be talking about myelin repair, so the part of the brain that is damaged in MS, and ways that we might be able to fix that using new advances in research. And also neuroimmunology, so the way that the immune system attacks the brain and the spinal cord in MS. And therefore, ways that we could potentially quieten that down and design new therapies for people living with the disease.

Rohan Greenland:

Well, that sounds like a really exciting program. But how about the speakers? We’ve got some superstar speakers, especially international speakers. Can you give us a rundown on who will be appearing from overseas?

Julia Morahan:

Absolutely. So first up, we have Professor Jeremy Chataway from the University College of London, who will be in Perth this year to discuss his Octopus trial. So this clinical trial has a special flexible design and is currently testing repurposed drugs for neuroprotection and repair in progressive MS. And this trial is honestly one of the most exciting things that is happening in the international space. So he will be in Perth to talk to us about Octopus and how they’re going and how it’s working. We also have Professor Robert Motl from the University of Illinois Chicago talking about health behaviors. And he’s especially interested in exercise for people living with MS. And also, Professor Wee Yong from the University of Calgary in Canada, who will be our keynote speaker talking about neuroimmunology, so the underlying biology of MS.

Rohan Greenland:

Well, that’s a fantastic lineup. I must say, I can’t wait to hear from Professor Chataway, not least because my cousin who lives in the UK has primary progressive MS and has just signed up as a participant in the Octopus program. So that will be one session I do not want to miss. And I’m sure that’ll be true of the whole MS community. Well, of course, in Australia we have our own superstars in the research space who are globally significant. Who are some of the key speakers from Australia?

Julia Morahan:

So we have a number of great speakers coming from the Australian side, but Deb Langridge will be our keynote speaker for the consumer involvement in research theme. Deb is from the Western Australia Health Translation Network, and she is particularly involved in how consumers can be involved in research design for the national government funders, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund. And Deb will be speaking to us about meaningful ways that people living with MS can get involved in research and have an impact. We also have Professor Simon Broadley from Griffith University in Queensland who will be discussing a new national initiative for progressive MS in Australia, which you alluded to before, Rohan. And we’re very excited to hear what Simon has to say.

Rohan Greenland:

That’s fantastic. One thing at MS Australia we really love to do is to nurture our up-and-coming researchers, the superstars of the future. So how are we showcasing their work at this conference?

Julia Morahan:

So at MS Australia, we’re known for running a very friendly conference. And we always have a great lineup of up-and-coming researchers in the program. This is a great opportunity for those more junior researchers, such as those who are still in the postgraduate stages of their careers, to showcase their work. So we will have a mix of presentations and posters for researchers to show what they’re up to, and also our great “rapid fire” round where they must explain their research and findings in four minutes.

Rohan Greenland:

One thing that I have heard said about the importance of MS Australia’s research program is that it really encourages younger research neurologists, clinicians, to get involved in research. And I have heard it said overseas that Australia is very good at nurturing neurologists into the research space. And I guess that’s one of the things that our conference aims to do as well is to really make sure those clinicians, emerging clinicians, have an opportunity to undertake research and present their research.

Julia Morahan:

Yes, we are known for clinical research in Australia. And we do have a great network of neurologists who are very involved in the research space, which is not necessarily a situation that is replicated in all countries. And it’s fantastic for both the research community and the clinical community because it means that we have people that are in touch with people in the clinic, living with the disease, also understanding what’s happening at the coal face in  research and moving things from the bench into clinical trials much more quickly.

Rohan Greenland:

And I think for a conference too, one of the other great things is for the MS community more generally, as well as people who are looking at specific parts of the research agenda, is to hear about breakthroughs or advancements or promising areas of research in areas other than their own. What are some of those areas that we’re going to hear about in Perth?

Julia Morahan:

So we have some fantastic research projects underway in MS in Australia. And we’re very excited to hear updates from the research teams about where they are up to. We are very excited about work that’s been happening in Australia, particularly in the repair space. So we’ve talked about this before in terms of having quite a lot of information potentially around how the immune system works in MS, but not really ways to repair damage that’s already been done. So we do have quite a bit of work that’s happening in Australia that we will be showcasing at the conference in that space. And as well, really interested to hear about the health behaviors. We know from people living with MS that they’re very interested in this space. And we do have a great network of researchers that are looking at this area really carefully. And those are some of the updates that we will be hearing about at the end of the year. We’re also very pleased to be making a key announcement about future work in the progressive MS space that will begin in Australia’s shortly.

Rohan Greenland:

Oh, that’s fantastic. And again, really unmissable opportunities to come up to speed with some of the fantastic work that has been done here in Australia. Julia, you have mentioned earlier we have a new format for this year’s conference with an expanded program to provide more opportunities for the MS community to take part. Can you tell us a little bit more about what’s on offer for those people living with MS, their families and their carers?

Julia Morahan:

People living with MS, their friends, families, and carers, are welcome to attend the entire conference if they wish, as usual. But we also have some sessions specifically aimed at people with MS and the community for Friday the 1st of December. So this will cover the main themes from the conference, including the consumer participation in research and how you can get involved in research. We also have a number of keynote speakers talking about the health behavior and modifiable lifestyle factors area that I’ve mentioned, and a bit about treatment pipelines for some of the new and upcoming treatments. We will also be using the day to showcase national advocacy undertaken by MS Australia on behalf of the MS community, and local services provided by MSWA for people living with MS and other neurological conditions.

Rohan Greenland:

And for those who may not be able to attend the conference in-person, are there opportunities for these people to access the conference content?

Julia Morahan:

Yes, there are. We will be streaming the sessions from the conference on Friday the 1st of December. So if you would like to attend virtually, please head to the MS Australia website to register your interest.

Rohan Greenland:

And finally, where do our listeners find more information about the Progress in MS Research conference?

Julia Morahan:

Please head to the MS Australia website and click on the conference banner to register your interest and let us know that you’ll be attending.

Rohan Greenland:

It couldn’t be more simple. It’s going to be a great event. There’s going to be jam-packed full of fantastic content, great speakers, wonderful opportunities to ask questions and network to learn more about what’s happening in the MS research agenda here in Australia and overseas, and to see how Australia really does punch above its weight when it comes to helping us go further and faster down the pathways to cures. Thank you very much for joining me today, Julia. And for all our listeners, I really hope to see you very soon in Perth. This has been The Raw Nerve.

Voiceover: 

Thanks for listening to the Raw Nerve, the official podcast of MS Australia. To hear more, subscribe to our podcast today at msaustralia.org.au/podcast. 

Views expressed on the Raw Nerve Podcast, including any discussions or reference to medications or treatments by podcast guests, do not necessarily represent the views of MS Australia and should not be seen as either an endorsement or rejection of a treatment.

 MS Australia does not recommend any specific treatment for people living with MS. Decisions about any treatments, taking into consideration the potential benefits and side effects for each individual’s circumstances, should be made in careful consultation with the person’s neurologist.

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Pioneering Progress: Insights into MS Australia’s iconic research conference