Meet the Researcher

Professor Michael Barnett

The University of Sydney, NSW

Associate Professor Michael Barnett

Professor Michael Barnett is a clinical neurologist at the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he directs the MS and neuroimmunology service.

About Professor Michael Barnett

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
A clinical neurologist at heart, my research focus has always been in multiple sclerosis, originally neuropathology, but now neuroimaging.   The most important thing in my life is my family – my wife and two kids. My wife is also a doctor – a neuro radiologist – with an interest in inflammatory disorders of the brain like MS. I spend my (rare) spare time with family in Australia and overseas.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I am a clinical neurologist at heart, but my research focus has always been in multiple sclerosis, originally in neuropathology, but now in neuroimaging.
Tell us about your current research project
Our project is focused on the development of novel AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms to monitor MS, its progression and response to therapy.   We're developing tools that use MRI imaging/scans to extract and quantify specific features of MS, to give clinicians a more precise assessment of patient progression and, potentially, to indicate which patients may need to change or escalate therapy.   Significantly, there are a number of new and emerging therapies coming to the market that target not only the inflammatory, but also the degenerative aspects of MS. And once those therapies arrive, having a way to measure a patient’s status and their response to therapy will be critical. Currently we don't have those tools.  This paired fellowship gives me an opportunity to work not only with a younger person, but with a scientist from a traditionally unrelated field, to achieve great things. I'm a clinical neurologist, but Tim Wang, with whom I'm working, has an engineering background. Tim and I have already worked together on a number of significant imaging-AI projects, which have laid the foundation for our MS Australia project. The paired Fellowships are unique and a testament to the foresight of MS Australia and its donors. Tim and I are very grateful for the opportunity that this Fellowship will afford us.
When I see patients in the clinic, much of our discussion is about what's next in MS research. Having day-to-day experience in research, the latest discoveries and research priorities, enables me to communicate that aspect during my consultation with patients.   Being an academic clinician is an amazing experience. Writing grants while trying to see patients can be very trying at times. But I think it gives a new perspective on how to treat MS patients. My team have also had many real-life achievements. For example, translating tools to monitor risk of therapy that are now used all around the world. Or developing AI software solutions as we will be doing in this grant round – for deployment not just in research settings, but also in clinics, to help patients manage their MS. This could not be achieved without the sort of funding we get from MS Australia.  
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Michael Barnett