Meet The Researcher

Professor Mary Galea

Professor Mary Galea

The University of Melbourne, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I have sorted pottery shards on an archaeological expedition.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My career has been concerned with understanding how movement is controlled and its recovery from nervous system injury.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The most exciting developments in MS research have been the availability of novel drugs that can slow disease progression and advances in brain imaging that have enabled a clearer understanding of the underlying pathology.
Tell us about your current research project...
Current clinical tests of motor function are not sensitive enough to pick up some of the more subtle signs of deterioration in MS. We urgently need better ways to monitor disease progression and the effectiveness of medications in patients with MS. Inertial sensors attached to the torso and legs can provide information about movement previously only available from expensive movement analysis in a Movement Laboratory. We now propose using such sensors to measure walking and balance in people with MS at the time of clinical appointments and to compare their sensor-derived walking and balance performance with standard clinical tests.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Loss of physical function because of impairment of walking and balance impacts severely on the quality of life of people with MS. Because the aim of treatment in MS is to keep patients free from relapses and disease progression it is essential for clinicians to be able to measure subtle changes in physical function that may indicate neural deterioration. Our research has shown that current clinical measures are not sufficiently sensitive to detect subtle changes in walking and balance. In the proposed study we will use a set of lightweight, body-worn inertial sensors to measure walking and balance performance at the time that people with MS attend their clinic appointments. The main results can be provided immediately to the neurologist and will provide additional and more informative methods of monitoring the effectiveness of existing treatments, which would also be immediately applicable in the clinical environment. We will also investigate other measures derived from the sensors which may provide a convenient summary of overall movement performance. Using more sensitive tests will mean that any deterioration of physical function will be picked up early and a person’s treatment regimen can then be altered to prevent or slow down further disease progression.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Being able to move is fundamental to human life. Movement emerges out of complex interactions among many interconnected elements (physical, environmental and neural) and is therefore extremely interesting to observe throughout the lifespan and during recovery from injury. Its variability makes it very challenging to measure.
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Mary Galea