Meet The Researcher

Dr Lisa Grech

Monash University

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I never actually completed year 12! This highlights that we can achieve our goals, even if a few obstacles are thrown our way.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
First and foremost, I love research. I’m a psychologist, so some form of healthcare research was always likely, but I also happen to have MS, a mild course fortunately, but it has inspired my research direction. It is very helpful as a healthcare researcher to have knowledge of services and challenges from the perspective of a consumer. It has definitely helped shape some of my research ideas. It has also given me an appreciation of the importance of input from consumers and other relevant stakeholders to inform research development and implementation.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The improvements in disease modifying treatments (DMT) for people with relapsing MS. Higher efficacy of some of the newer DMTs for people with very active MS is of huge importance, as is the range of options now available when a medication fails for a person with MS. I also have an interest in medication adherence, which is problematic in all chronic illnesses, including MS. Oral DMTs, while not the entire solution, may help with this for some people, but DMTs with annual dosing schedules, such as cladribine, are also exciting with this respect. I acknowledge all of this with an appreciation that there is still a huge need for advancement in treatments for progressive forms of MS, which unfortunately has been limited.
Tell us about your current research project...
The overall aim of this research program is to improve assessment, treatment and monitoring of depression in MS through MS specialist healthcare services across Australia. Depression occurs in MS approximately 2-3 times more often than in the general population and is less likely to subside without effective treatment. International research shows that detection of depressive symptoms is sub-optimal, missing up to 36% of people with MS and depression. Once depressive symptoms are detected, only about 46% are referred for treatment. Furthermore, up to 65% of people receiving treatment still report moderate-to-severe depression, suggesting treatment requires greater monitoring and adjustment. This current project, funded by MS Research Australia, aims to understand how depression is assessed and managed by MS specialist healthcare professionals, as well as any barriers that exist to assessing and treating depression for healthcare professionals and for people with MS. It is the first phase in a comprehensive program.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Detrimental outcomes of depression in MS include poorer quality of life, employment sustainability and cognitive performance, intensified perceptions of disability, social and family relationship disruption and interference with medication adherence and self-care. The suicide rate for people with MS is twice that of the general population. Through improved detection and treatment of depressive symptoms, this research program (of which MS Research Australia are funding the first phase) has the potential to substantially positively impact quality of life for people with MS who experience clinically significant depressive systems and their families, as well as provide economic benefits.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
There are so many things I love about research. I really enjoy developing ideas into proposals, testing those ideas, analysing results and writing manuscripts to disseminate findings, as well as many of the parts that culminate into the feeling that I’m able to contribute something meaningful. There are also many challenges in research. Certainly, the biggest is funding. It’s a tough industry: you have to win your salary and win the money to do the project. A lot of time goes into that. A lot of time that could otherwise be spend on doing research. Yet, it is the industry I have chosen and I am incredibly grateful that on this occasion MS Research Australia decided this project needed to be done!
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Dr Lisa Grech