Meet The Researcher

Professor Ingrid van der Mei

Menzies Institute for Medical Research

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I live in Tasmania where the wilderness is right on my doorstep. I am an active person, an avid kayaker, bush-walker and cyclist. Here, I am fortunate to have many beautiful places to explore from places like Cradle Mountain to Frenchman’s Cap, Walls of Jerusalem to the Freycinet Peninsula. This provides an important balance as I spend much time behind my desk conducting research, supervising students, and managing projects.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
In 1998, I arrived in Australia from the Netherlands on a one-year Australian-European Program Award. Professor Ponsonby, a world-renowned epidemiologist working at the Menzies at the time, had just written a research proposal focusing on the latitudinal gradient of MS which centred around the role of sun exposure in MS. I was fascinated by the proposal and offered to coordinate the study as well as a linked genetics project. It was the start of a long career in MS research.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Despite the slow evolvement of MS research, the development of disease modifying therapies, with each new generation of drugs being more efficacious than the one before, has been extremely important for people with MS. I have seen the impact of these treatments within the data I have collected. For example, people with MS are more likely to be employed in more recent years and those using high efficacy disease modifying therapies having better health outcomes. This data mirrors the personal stories I hear in interviews. It provides me with great satisfaction that MS research has such a significant impact on the lives of people with MS and their loved ones.
Tell us about your current research project...
During my fellowship, I will lead projects that harness digital health technologies for people with MS, their clinical and associate care teams, with the aim of improving both clinical and self care for people with MS. These projects are; InforMS, MS WorkSmart, My SymptoMS App and four specialised Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
My research gives the MS community access to evidence-based knowledge and tools to improve self care and clinical care, improving their quality of life. It also provides neurologists with up to date data about whether a treatment works or does not work, allowing them to identify treatment failure early and be responsive with their treatment Additionally, MS Nurses can be provided with information to triage issues, preventing escalation of disease activity. Although digital technologies have been utilised widely through health platforms, including personal tracking through wearables and phone technologies, allowing users to set goals and track their progress, as well as giving health care providers and researchers access to such valuable data; this is the first time that such technologies are being used specifically for people with MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I enjoy the challenge of collecting real life data and discovering the patterns and pictures that sit within this data. Sometimes they are obvious and easy to find, but quite often they need sophisticated statistical methods and many discussions within our interdisciplinary team to ensure that the findings, and their accompanying stories, are true and correct. Additionally, I enjoy working with a team of passionate and smart people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, including researchers, professional staff, health practitioners, service providers and people with MS.
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Professor Ingrid van der Mei