Meet The Researcher

kalina makowiecki

Dr Kalina Makowiecki

Menzies Institute for Medical Research, TAS

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I’m originally from Perth, and moved Hobart after living in Göttingen, Germany for 3 years. When I’m not working, I am most likely out hiking in the Tasmanian wilderness or restoring old furniture.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My background is in brain plasticity research – the brain’s ability to change itself – and this led me to MS research. My previous work looked at how the brain controls plasticity vs. stability, and how we might harness this for therapeutic purposes. Many people with MS have abnormal brain plasticity, even early in the disease course. I was inspired to get involved in MS research because how myelin loss relates to changes in brain plasticity might be a key piece of the puzzle in understanding MS pathology, and lead to developing new treatments that could halt disease progression.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Recently, there’s a lot of exciting work undertaken by researchers collaborating across different fields/disciplines, for example, investigating how different types of cells interact, and how genes and environment interact, giving us a much more complete picture of MS than we had even a few years ago. In particular, the increasing amount of collaborative research where fundamental lab studies inform clinical trials and vice versa, is exciting to see and is important in developing treatments to improve the lives of people living with MS.
Tell us about your current research project...
My research aims to identify cellular changes that could underpin some of the symptoms experienced by people with MS, and why neurons start to die as the disease progresses. We know that, in MS, the insulative coating on neurons (myelin) is lost, causing slowed or failed communication between neurons; and eventually neurons start to die, causing progressive disability; but we don’t know exactly why. Does losing myelin change how neurons communicate and function in the circuit? Do changes in neuron communication make neurons more vulnerable to damage? Are the same connections between neurons restored when new myelin is made? My research uses lab models of MS to answer these questions.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
This project aims to understand how neuron communication changes, from the earliest stages of myelin loss, could lead to MS symptoms, and neurons dying. The way that neurons communicate in brain circuits is vital to healthy function. This study will improve our understanding of how myelin loss affects this function and could make neurons vulnerable to damage. We hope to reveal how new treatments could target brain circuit communication to restore brain function to overcome debilitating symptoms, protect neurons from damage and halt disease progression in people with MS.
6)What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I get to ask hard questions, go through the rigorous process to answer them and discover what’s really going on – that’s what I enjoy the most about working in the lab. Being relatively new to MS research, there’s a lot of new and interesting things to learn while I’m still getting familiar with the field. Fortunately, the MS experts I work with and the broader network of MS researchers provides a supportive environment.
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Kalina Makowiecki