Meet The Researcher

Dr Sarrabeth Stone

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
When I am not in the lab, I love exploring the outdoors by mountain biking and rock climbing.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
A combination of factors. My mother has MS so I have seen first hand the way MS can affect a person’s life. My love of neuroscience and learning is what drew me to MS research specifically. Throughout my undergraduate studies I became fascinated with the immune system and neuroscience. Then, during my honours and PhD, I was fortunate enough to join Professor La Flamme’s lab at Victoria University of Wellington which further ignited my interest in MS research and was the start of my career.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
There have been so many exciting developments it is hard to pick just one and there are so many discoveries in neuroscience as a whole that greatly benefit the field of MS. Broadly, I would say the development of new preclinical models such as the discovery of brain organoids was simply amazing. Within the field of MS specifically, I think the progress we have made in understanding the repair mechanisms of the brain has been so crucial. It’s important to understand how MS occurs and how we may prevent it, but for 1000s of people with MS, the development of new treatments targeted at preventing disease progression is paramount. This research has real potential to lead to the development of new therapeutics that promote remyelination and functional repair, which would be game changing for the treatment of people with MS.
Tell us about your current research project...
My current research project is focused on microglia, the immune cell of the central nervous system. Microglia have the capacity to be either damaging or protective, and these “protective microglia” promote myelin repair and protect axons in MS. I am particularly interested in further understanding how microglia promote myelin repair. To this end I am studying microRNA, a kind of molecular control switch that acts as one of the master regulators of cell function. My lab has been investigating the microRNAs that control the identity and function of microglia with the aim of identifying microRNAs that cause microglia to become protective and thus repair inflammatory damage. The overarching aim of this project is to identify one or more microglial microRNA with promyelinating functions, opening new avenues for novel therapeutics that promote myelin repair.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The outcomes of my project are hoped to lead to the development of new treatments targeting progressive MS and preventing the accumulation of disability in people who live with the condition. MS is an extremely complex disease. Current treatments reduce symptoms for many people with MS, but do not work for every subtype of MS and do not prevent long term disability. As such, there is a pressing need to develop novel treatments to protect the brain and promote repair in MS. Working to address this need, my research focuses on understanding the role microRNAs play in microglial function and identifying microglial microRNAs that will promote protection and repair of the brain. MicroRNAs represent a promising new class of therapeutics that have currently untapped potential.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I have always enjoyed learning and discovering new things, I really love learning new techniques to answer questions. I’ll never forget the first time I looked at myelin under an electron microscope. I find working in the lab to be intellectually challenging and stimulating. I also love working in a collaborative group with other researchers, it’s so rewarding to be a part of a collaborative and uplifting team like I am at the Florey. Having a supportive team around you is essential in science because, it is often filled with failure and requires a lot of patience. By far the biggest challenge facing scientists today is obtaining sufficient funding for our research projects, hence I’d like to thank the generous contribution of MS Australia and its community for supporting my work.
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Dr Sarrabeth Stone