Meet The Researcher

Dr James Harris

Dr James Harris

Monash University, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I play the drums! I'm in a pub rock/blues covers band (Rustbucket – find us on Facebook!). It's a great way to de-stress and clear the mind occasionally. Rock star or scientist..? Why not both!
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
This molecule I'm working on pushed me in this direction. I have worked on a number of different diseases, including tuberculosis, lupus, arthritis and scleroderma. Ultimately, most of the biological mechanisms underlying diseases, and inflammation in general, are common to all. Recent studies have suggested that MIF is involved in MS – my own data highlights a potential mechanism and application for this discovery. Fortunately, I have a wonderful collaborator in Natalie Payne, who is the real MS expert.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
For me, not surprisingly, the role of migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is pretty exciting. It brings my skills and interests into the game and gives me a reason to get involved and try and make a difference.
Tell us about your current research project...
Recent discoveries have shown that a particular molecule, MIF, is important in MS. We have worked on MIF for a number of years and discovered biological functions for it that may explain its importance in MS and other diseases. We will use this to develop new ways to test drugs that target MIF so that we can then test these in MS. We hope this will uncover potential new treatments for MS.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
While we know that MIF is potentially important in MS, we don't really know why or how we can use this information to design new treatments. This study will start to answer these questions and in particular, use our own discoveries to create new ways of testing potential drugs. Ultimately, we hope that these new tests can be used to screen large numbers of potential drugs to uncover the most promising for testing in MS. In the future, we hope that this will open new avenues for the discovery and development of new drugs for MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I love going in to work every day not knowing what we might discover next. Almost every interesting discovery I have made over the course of my career has been unexpected and/or serendipitous, usually because things never work out the way we thought they might! Then it is really exciting to try and work out what these new discoveries might mean in terms of diseases like MS, and how we might use them improve treatments/diagnostics. One of the main challenges is focus; trying not to get distracted by all the potential new discoveries every experiment uncovers.
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James Harris