Meet The Researcher

Dr Stephanie Trend

Telethon Kids Institute

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
Before starting my PhD, I worked in a pathology laboratory and as a clinical trial coordinator in a busy oncology clinic. I believe these experiences helped me to understand patient experiences within the Australian medical and research systems and allow me to facilitate better research projects.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I have always been interested in science and understanding the world around us. During my university studies I became fascinated by the human immune system and the differences between immune responses in healthy people and those with different health issues. After I completed my PhD, an opportunity arose to become involved in MS research. That was 6 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Meeting with the study participants who take part in our research has been invaluable in helping me to understand the impact of MS on people’s lives. It is highly rewarding to be involved in research that aims to better understand MS so that it might be more easily treated or prevented in the future.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The development of therapies that deplete immune cells (such as ocrelizumab) has benefitted patients greatly and has provided important insights for researchers trying to understand the contributions of those immune cells to MS.
Tell us about your current research project...
Our team has a focus on investigating the immune cells that are involved in MS very early in the disease, with an aim to better identify triggers and future therapies to prevent MS. We have shown that in females with early or pre-MS (clinically isolated syndrome), an important immune cell known as B cells may not have enough of an important regulating factor to prevent immune responses to their own body (known as autoimmunity). In this new study, we will investigate whether another immune cell known as neutrophils, which can produce a number of proteins that stimulate B cells, might be behind this observation. If there is a link between neutrophils and B cell activation, this might offer another target for disease-modifying therapies in future.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
B cells are a key cell target of a range of current MS drugs and the effectiveness of these have demonstrated how important they are for driving the disease. However, the reasons for B cell activation aren’t very clear. This research will help us to better understand what causes B cell activation in early MS, and whether neutrophils are involved.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I feel very privileged to work with the wonderful community of people with MS, clinicians and other scientists to tackle the disease. There are always new and important advances in science and I love being able to contribute with our work. There are many challenges including balancing family and work life, and interruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, but overall, it is a very rewarding job.
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Dr Stephanie Trend