Meet The Researcher


Dr Mastura Monif

Monash University, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I was born in Afghanistan, and when I came to Australia in high school, I spoke 3-4 words of English.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My initial inspiration was my PhD research. My PhD focused on neuroinflammation and in particular, a type of immune cell, microglia. I was mesmerised by the function of these cells and their ability to exert a variety of effects on nearby neurons. Seeing ‘neuroinflammation’ first hand made me intrigued not only about the process itself but also what can be done to stop the deleterious consequences of microglial or immune cell activation. Then becoming a neurologist, my utmost inspiration has been my patients. I have many patients with MS, some young, some old and from all walks of life. What I see in my patients, and their drive and determination inspires me as a clinician scientist to continue to strive for better understanding of MS disease mechanisms and for development of targeted therapies for various forms of MS and MS flare.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The most exciting development in MS research has been the translation of research into development of a variety of efficacious therapies for Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS). Of course, in Australia we are fortunate that several key MS disease-modifying therapies are available on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. However, my hope is that in the future there will be increased research in disease-modifying therapies for progressive forms of MS and for treatments of MS relapse, and with wider access to these therapies globally.
Tell us about your current research project...
My research focuses on MS relapse. MS relapse is characterised by a flare or deterioration of the condition that can be diagnosed clinically and in some cases associated with presence of new lesions on MRI scan. MS relapse is treated with high dose steroids and recurrent or prolonged use of steroids can induce a number of undesired side effects. The aim of our research is to identify soluble biomarkers for MS relapse. We are focusing on a particular protein named P2X7R which is expressed in a variety of immune cells. Our research will examine P2X7R levels and function at the time of MS relapse versus remission. Our data in the laboratory will be linked to patient clinical outcomes to hopefully use the knowledge gained for better diagnosis and future treatments of MS flare.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
MS and in particular flare of MS can have devastating consequences for our patients affecting their functional independence and their quality of life. Currently there are no accurate biomarkers of MS relapse and we do not have targeted therapies for MS flare. Our research could assist in not only improving our understanding of MS flare, but the knowledge gained could lead to targeted therapies to combat disease flare.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
What I enjoy the most in the lab is the actual science itself. Focusing on innate immune cells and their role in neuroinflammation gives me a sense of awe. It unravels the intricacies of science and the possibilities that lies ahead in understanding disease mechanisms. I also enjoy working with so many very talented and hardworking PhD students, and my clinical and researcher colleagues. Our efforts are joint and our continuous endeavours in the lab are aimed at discovering better biomarkers and better treatments to alleviate patient suffering. One of the challenges I face, is of course juggling (the hours in a day) of busy clinical/patient load combined with leading a lab and a full time research portfolio. However having said that, my research endeavours informs my clinical practice and vice versa. I feel I am privileged and grateful to have the opportunity to do both clinical work and laboratory science. Seeing my patients do well, is definitely worth the hard work and long hours.

Current Research Project

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Mastura Monif