Meet The Researcher

Associate Professor Alessandro Castorina

University of Technology Sydney, NSW

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I practiced kickboxing both as an amateur and professional during my teenage years and young adulthood (for almost twenty years), and this has helped me to build up resiliency and to never give up on a challenge.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
MS is a complex and multifactorial disease of the central nervous system. However, unlike other neurodegenerative conditions, MS is diagnosed at a younger age, when the effects of physiological aging cannot be accounted for as possible confounders. In addition, the early onset increases the chances that any discovery, including the identification of new risk factors and/or the development of new disease modifying therapies can result in more favourable outcomes and improve the quality of life of afflicted people.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Over the years, there has been a remarkable improvement in the logistic of MS research. Researchers and organisations have embraced the multidisciplinary approach, which is crucial for the proper identification of effective treatment strategies for such a devastating disease.
Tell us about your current research project...
In my research, the main goal will be to identify a new environmental risk factor that holds the potential to provide a unifying theory to explain why certain people get MS and others don’t. The research entails the identification of a non-protein amino acid in the brain of MS donors. This non-protein amino acid is normally produced and released by certain plants (sugar beets) and can easily enter the food chain. Our hypothesis is that environmental exposure to this molecule alters myelin structure to trigger a self-harming response by the immune system, as seen in people with MS.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Whilst a lot of emphasis has been put on assessing the role of the immune system in the pathogenesis of MS, much less attention has been given to the importance of myelin integrity as a possible trigger for the disease. My research will try to identify a novel environmental risk factor that can alter myelin structure in a way that can instigate our own immune system to destroy it.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Since I started working in the lab, I have always been fascinated by the number of different approaches that can be used to tackle a scientific question. I love experimenting and the excitement of new discoveries, which is what drives my passion to pursue research. The main challenges I have encountered in my profession have been attracting funding to conduct research.
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Alessandro Castorina