Meet The Researcher

associate-professor-brad-sutherland

Associate Professor Brad Sutherland

University of Tasmania

About
Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I have only lived in Australia for 5 years, I grew up in New Zealand where I completed my PhD at the University of Otago (2009) and then spent 7 years as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Oxford in the UK. I then arrived to take up an academic position at the University of Tasmania in 2016.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
The brain has always fascinated me. As far as we have come with our understanding of the brain over the last 100 years, we have merely reached the tip of the iceberg. I have a long-standing interest in how disorders of the brain occur and what are the biological underpinnings of these. We still do not actually understand fully the causes of MS and there appears to be a lot of overlapping disease pathology between different neurological disorders that I have worked on the past (stroke, dementia). The severity of the disease is substantial, and patients are afflicted by this disease over a lifetime. Therefore, this has inspired me to find out what causes MS and discover novel ways to prevent its occurrence.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Even though we have a number of treatments now available for MS, patients still have to live with the disease for a lifetime after diagnosis. The most exciting development for me is the ability to use some of the amazing technology available to researchers to increase our understanding of what causes this disease, which will have the potential to springboard the development of curative treatments for MS.
Tell us about your current research project...
With the generous funding from MS Research Australia, we will be using cutting edge technology to determine whether the neurovascular niche is the initiation point for MS. The neurovascular niche is a grouping of cells that coordinate the interaction between the brain and its blood vessels. One cell type that controls many functions in the neurovascular niche is the pericyte, which are located exclusively on capillaries. We believe that pericyte dysfunction could underlie the disruption of the blood-brain barrier and immune cell invasion into the brain leading to demyelination. In addition, we will be examining how another cell type called oligodendrocyte precursor cells interact with pericytes and the neurovascular niche to determine their role in the development of demyelination.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
At present little is known about the causes of MS. This fundamental research project will identify cellular changes at the neurovascular niche, which we think is the initiation point for where pathology begins. Vascular dysfunction in the brain could also explain some of the known risk factors of MS such as smoking and obesity since these both are known to modify cardiovascular function. This project also has the potential to identify cellular targets that could be used to develop tools for the early diagnosis and even prevention of MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Working in the laboratory is so much fun. As a researcher, every day we are on the cusp of discovering something new that no one else knows or has seen before. No two days are the same and the beauty of scientific discovery is that we do not know what the future holds or where the science will take us. I also get joy about the potential impact that our discoveries in the lab could make to advance humankind. Just like in any workplace there are challenges with working in the lab such as the safety requirements, use of specialist and technical equipment and the disappointment when an experiment doesn’t work. Lab research is expensive and maintaining research funding is a challenge. That is why I am so grateful to the donors for allowing us to carry out this important research.
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Associate Professor Brad Sutherland