Meet The Researcher

Dr Claudia Marck

The University of Melbourne, VIC

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Netherlands, famous for cycling. When I still lived there I cycled every day; to school or university, to meet my friends at the pub, everywhere. Whether it was sunny, raining (most of the time) or snowing. Although the cycling infrastructure in Australia is nowhere near as good (yet) as in the Netherlands, I still insist on cycling as my favourite form of transport, and it keeps me fit!
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
MS is relatively common, almost everyone knows someone with MS. I also know several people with MS and that it can be devastating to receive the diagnosis. When I started working in MS research about 5 years ago, I felt that I could contribute to improving the lives of people with MS by using my research skills. I find that MS researchers here and overseas are often very passionate and that it is a nice community to be a part of. We share a common goal and that is to contribute to the knowledge and practice that will ultimately help prevent or delay any negative consequences of MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
I am passionate about the ways people with MS can take control to improve their symptoms and health. There is now increasing focus on strategies such as a mental health treatment and healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding or improving contributors to MS symptoms and poor overall health, such as smoking, depressive symptoms and obesity; and promoting helpful strategies such as exercise. I am very pleased to see an increase in quality research that provides evidence for management strategies such as exercise interventions in the last decade. While there is still a lot of work to do in this domain, and to bring research findings into practice, we are making a lot of progress. There are now large international initiatives such as MS Brain Health, which provide holistic recommendations on diagnosis and treatment strategies including medications and a ‘brain-healthy’ lifestyle. This is a paradigm shift in the management of MS that will hopefully improve the lives of people with MS around the world.
Tell us about your current research project?
I will undertake several projects during my fellowship. First, in times of crisis, such as the recent bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, self-management and access to healthcare may be impacted. One of my projects which started last year, in collaboration with Dr Learmonth from Murdoch University and others, will help us understand how to prepare the MS community for future and ongoing crises. As we know, MS and common symptoms require life-long management by the person with MS (self-management) with direction from a team of healthcare professionals to guide clinical and allied health treatments. Decision making about whether treatments are effective and safe are based on rigorous research, summarised in practice guidelines for MS clinicians and resources for people with MS. However, gaps in the availability and quality of guidelines and resources regarding self-management, as well as in uptake of these, make decision making and prioritisation of treatments suboptimal. One of my projects aims to understand and map some of these gaps and develop recommendations for these resources to promote safe and effective treatments for better health outcomes. Finally, novel statistical methods have become available that can help determine which treatments are the most safe and effective, even if they have not been compared directly in research previously. A lot of evidence is available from a range of treatment types, such as psychological, pharmacological, physical activity, and others. During my fellowship I will assess the evidence to understand whether we can compare which are the most effective and safe to treat common MS symptoms such as walking impairment, depression and fatigue, and develop treatment recommendations based on the findings.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
My fellowship responds to unmet needs by applying contemporary methods to evaluate evidence, and effectively translating knowledge into resources, in partnership with consumers, clinicians, and academics. Together, I think we can make a real difference to help people with MS and their clinicians make decisions about managing MS and symptoms, and achieving the best health outcomes possible.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I enjoy working closely together with collaborators from all over Australia and the world and learning from them. Also working with students gives me lots of energy, there are so many bright and passionate researchers out there! The funding landscape is always challenging, and we are spending a lot of time applying for the funds needed to carry out our work. Which is why I’m grateful to MS Research Australia and all the fundraisers for funding my fellowship!
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Claudia Marck