Meet The Researcher

Ms Alice Saul

Ms Alice Saul

University of Tasmania

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
On the weekends, you’ll find me either gardening, or swimming in the ocean. I also enjoy working on our family farm, where I started a business called ‘Lexington Woolies Tasmania’. Lexington Woolies is a sheep and alpaca yarn label and stockists include the Salamanca Wool Shop (Hobart, Tasmania), Woolarium (Melbourne, Victoria) and online at Louie and Lola Yarns.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I was inspired to get involved in MS research as I have experienced firsthand the impact that MS can have on individuals and their families. I understand the challenges that MS presents, and I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of others by tackling these problems.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
I think every development in MS research is exciting. Every clue helps to improve our understanding of MS leading to better treatments and quality of life of those affected by MS. One of my personal favourites was research by Dr Franciso Quintana’s team (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Havard Medical School) that identified a link between diet, gut, and the immune system in laboratory models of MS as it was particularly relevant to my doctorate project. I also find it exciting that lifestyle interventions are beginning to play a key role in modern day treatment of MS alongside pharmacological agents.
Tell us about your current research project...
Pain is prevalent in MS, yet there is uncertainty about the nature of MS-related pain, how pain fluctuates over time, and how it relates to other symptoms of MS. While pain has a substantial impact on people with MS, only a few studies have categorised the different types of pain that people with MS experience. Pain is commonly treated in MS, but low levels of relief have been reported. My current research project will focus on understanding pain in MS by examining specific types of pain in terms of prevalence, severity, predictability and its chronic nature. Pain management experiences will be examined by identifying which treatments are most frequently used, and which have the highest perceived effectiveness. The project is designed to improve the understanding of individual types of pain on people with MS, to develop advice on pain management for people with MS and health practitioners, and to design treatment intervention studies for specific types of pain.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. As an MS focus group facilitator, I spent valuable time in the MS community. An important insight I gained was how important it was for people with MS to be able to stay well and take control of their disease. Whilst pain is prevalent in MS, there is no clear guidance on how pain should be managed. This project is designed to close a knowledge gap and may provide information for pain treatments that can be tested in a randomised control trial, making a difference for those living with MS pain.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
My role requires a lot of problem-solving, which I find immensely satisfying. Often, we have only a handful of clues to figure out a research question, so finding the solutions to the puzzle that is MS is a tremendous feat. I enjoy learning new skills to do this and love teaming up with researchers all over the world. I also find it very rewarding when these discoveries can make a difference in people’s lives. Research can be time consuming, patience is often vital, and it is highly competitive. We are often in competition with researchers all over the world. Challenges like these make the thrill of discovery even sweeter!
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Alice Saul