Meet The Researcher

Alistair Govier-Cole

Dr Alistair Govier-Cole

Monash University, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I lived in Dearborn (Michigan, USA) for approximately one year when I was six years old when my family moved there for a work opportunity. I came back to Australia with an American accent that made me quite a novelty at my new primary school...
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I enjoyed life sciences at school and that led me to studying undergraduate science at the University of Melbourne. I became fascinated by the potential of using our knowledge of the biological tools of the body to treat and cure human diseases. At the time, there was a great deal of excitement over the discovery and potential of induced pluripotent stem cells. I began looking for Honours research projects using stem cells in disease models. One that caught my eye was offered by Dr Holly Cateinthe MS Group, led by Professor Trevor Kilpatrick at the Florey Institute/University of Melbourne. She was investigating the factors that regulate myelination by neural stem and progenitor cells in MS. I was so impressed by Holly and Trevoras well as the laboratory facilitiesat the Florey Institute that I signed up as quickly as I could.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Recently there has been renewed interest in the idea that oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs, the cells that grow and change into mature myelin-forming oligodendrocyte cells in the central nervous system) can also behave similarly to immune cells. This has been hinted at in previous studies from as early as 1986, but advanced genetic sequencing experiments by Gonçalo Castelo-Branco’s laboratory at the Karolinska Institutet have provided convincing evidence for OPC sub-populations that may exist in a primed state to interact with the immune system during brain inflammation. But we don't know clearly what mechanisms or signalling pathways regulate this behaviour or what therapeutic angles may present themselves with better understanding of this phenomenon.
Tell us about your current research project...
I am very interested in how the physiological stress response influences aspects of MS. It goes without saying that a diagnosis of MS can cause significant stress, in addition to the stress caused by the constant management of the disease. Stress is physiologically regulated by glucocorticoid hormones such ascortisol. Interestingly, synthetic glucocorticoids are a mainline treatment for MS as anti-inflammatory drugs, but we do not yet have a clear understanding of how these drugs influence the behaviour of oligodendrocytes and their capacity to remyelinate the brain. As mentioned above, in addition to their remyelinating function, the oligodendrocyteprecursor cells have been shown to have potential immune functions that may be at playduring theonset of MS. Glucocorticoids have well-known roles in regulating inflammatory processes in the body. I will investigate the importance of glucocorticoids in regulating oligodendrocyte growth, myelination, and their ability to interact with the immune system.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Our understanding of the onset and treatment of MS has greatly improved over many decades. However, the mechanisms of the brain inflammation that causes MS, as well as the process of remyelination, continue to present opportunities for designing more effective therapeutic strategies for treating MS. By examining the role of stress hormones on oligodendrocyte function, my research aims to further detail our understanding of the mechanisms behind these processes.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I enjoy working in a team environment, and given that science is a supremely collaborative endeavour, it provides an ideal setting in which to work. Knowing that every scientific contribution we can make to better understanding MS is one small step closer to the dream of eventually curing MS, or at least making it more treatable and improving the quality of life of people with MS provides a lot of motivation. I also enjoy supervising new research students in the laboratory and talking to them about my research to in classroom settings. The major challenge I face as an early-career researcher is accessing funds with which to conduct experiments. Federal grant schemes are becoming notoriously difficult to obtain, especially without a long track record of success. This is why I greatly appreciate the MS Australia Incubator scheme for giving me an opportunity to conduct this research.
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Dr Alistair Govier-Cole