Meet The Researcher

kalina makowiecki

Dr Kalina Makowiecki

Menzies Institute for Medical Research

About
Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I’m originally from Perth, and recently moved to Hobart after living in Germany for 3 years.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My background in neuroplasticity research – the brain’s ability to change itself – has led me to MS research. My previous work looked at mechanisms that regulate neuroplasticity, and how we might harness plasticity for therapeutic purposes. Many people with MS have abnormal neuroplasticity, even early on in the disease progression - this highlights a possible mechanism for some of the symptoms and potential for novel treatment targets.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
It’s exciting to see more focus on the cognitive symptoms of MS which have historically taken a second place to motor symptoms. The recent research into treatments that harness the brain’s ability to ‘fix’ itself and compensate for damage to restore function – such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) – is also really exciting to see, particularly as clinical trials are going on along-side research into mechanisms for how this works, and how loss and repair of the insulating coating around nerve cells (myelin) can impact this.
Tell us about your current research project...
My research aims to identify the cellular changes that could underpin “brain fog” and cognitive symptoms experienced by people with MS. Normally, the way nerve cells in the brain connect to form circuits, is changeable: connections that communicate often become stronger, and unused connections are lost (‘use it or lose it!’) – this modification of connections is what allows us to learn and remember things. In MS, myelin is lost which then causes a “slowing down” or failure to communicate between nerve cells. We don’t know the consequence of this - how does slowing or losing the signal change the way nerve cells connect in the circuit? Are the same connections restored when new myelin is made? My research uses lab models of MS to answer these questions.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The way that nerve cells connect in brain circuits is vital to normal function; this study will improve our understanding of how myelin loss affects this function. The study aims to test whether myelin loss changes not only the speed of communication, but whether this leads to other changes to nerve cells and brain circuit remodelling which would affect a person’s ability to remember and multi-task. The knowledge generated by this research could lead to development of novel treatments, for example, preventing or decreasing cognitive symptoms by targeting brain plasticity, or brain activity to compensate for the loss of myelin.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I get to ask hard questions, go through the rigorous process to answer them and discover what’s really going on – that’s really exciting to me. Being new to MS research, there’s a lot of new and interesting things to learn while I become more familiar with the field. Fortunately, the MS experts I work with and the broader network of MS researchers provide a supportive environment!
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Dr Kalina Makowiecki