Meet The Researcher

Dr Daniel Merlo

Monash University

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself…
I started my research life in the UK where I researched brain development in zebrafish. When I’m not working, you’ll find me running or mountain biking on trails around Victoria.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I fell into MS research, really. After several years researching brain and blood cell development in zebrafish, I moved into lab-based MS research and now find myself working in clinical MS research, which I love.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
For me, the most current exciting development in MS research is the role that technology will play in the management of many aspects of MS. Most of us carry a smartphone around in our pockets or wear a smart watch that are packed with sensors and always internet connected, and these offer new and exciting opportunities to monitor the impact of and changes in symptoms and how this might affect daily functioning of many people living with MS.
Tell us about your current research project…
My current research project aims to use technology to measure long term changes in areas of cognition that are commonly affected in people living with MS. Up to 65% of people living with MS can have changes in areas of cognition such as memory or the speed at which they can process information and this can contribute to difficulties in performing everyday tasks. Some of these changes can be very subtle and difficult to measure in the MS clinic. We aim to measure these changes over time, using tests that can be completed frequently on a smartphone from home and to define changes on these tests that are clinically relevant to worsening of other MS symptoms and changes in the ability to perform daily tasks such as work productivity.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The measurement of subtle changes in cognitive functioning in the MS outpatient clinic is currently an unmet need. Earlier detection of changes in broad cognitive functioning using smartphone tools could result in earlier comprehensive assessment and management at a time when cognitive decline is potentially modifiable. The development and translation of brief cognitive screening tools such as these could change the way all people living with MS are monitored.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
My favourite thing about working in translational research is the opportunity to work with a large team made up of neurologists, scientists, statisticians and other health professionals. I am always humbled by the people living with MS that we work with, who give up so much of their precious time and show much interest in the work that we do. It really feels like a team effort!
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Dr Daniel Merlo