Meet The Researcher

Ms Michele Binder

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I actually started my research career in an entirely different field, studying the molecular mechanism of sex determination in birds. It was only later in my career, during my time in Martin Raff's lab in London, that I developed an interest in the oligodendrocyte - the cell type damaged in MS.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I spent 5 years working in London, where I was introduced to the oligodendrocyte, and have been working with this cell ever since. Oligodendrocytes are the cell which produce myelin, the protective cover on nerves and which is the main target of damage in MS. It was therefore natural to progress from a love for these cells to an interest in understanding how they are damaged in MS, and how we might protect them from damage and even promote repair.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The finding that myelin repair occurs naturally in the brain was a crucial step in giving researchers confidence that it would be possible to develop therapies that can repair the damage that occurs in MS lesions. Although the natural repair response in the human brain fails over time, MS researchers all over the world have made great progress in understanding the molecules and mechanisms involved in myelin repair, and have begun to develop strategies and new therapies to promote repair.
Tell us about your current research project...
In this project we will develop a method to use "mini-brains" to model the myelin damage we see in MS, so that ultimately we can use this model to test promising new treatments for progressive MS. This "brain in a dish" approach is a method where stem cells can be used to generate a complex 3-dimensional culture than can mimic some of the functions of a brain, including the formation of the myelin, the protective sheath around nerves that is damaged in MS. . This will provide a critical tool to bridge the gap between mouse models and human testing, increasing the chance of success and speed at which new treatments can be offered to patients through clinical trials.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
In the long term the majority of people with MS develop progressive disability, with significant adverse personal, medical and economic costs. The lack of therapies that target the progressive phase of MS is a significant unmet need for people who live with the condition. There is currently an intense focus on the development of pro-myelinating therapies for treatment of progressive MS. One of the major challenges in drug discovery is translating promising therapies from pre-clinical models - usually mice - to clinical use. An ongoing challenge for the field is the lack of suitable human models for testing new therapies. To bridge the gap between animal models and human clinical trials, new models of myelin damage and repair using human cells are crucial.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I love the discovery aspect of working in the lab; our job in science is to develop new knowledge, which means that when you get a new result you may be the very first person in the world to know something. Of course many of the problems we work on are very challenging, and answering the questions we are asking can involve developing new techniques, or adapting old techniques in novel ways. This usually involves multiple failures, and can take months or years of work, so in science we always have to be ready to play the long game.
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Michele Binder