Meet The Researcher

Ms Lillian Toomey

Curtin University, WA

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I co-host a science themed podcast!
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I had already been researching into the effects of damage following neurotrauma, and MS has some mechanistic similarities to neurotrauma. My supervisor Lindy Fitzgerald was moving towards MS research and I found that the more I delved into the literature surrounding MS, the more interested I became. This is a condition that affects many young people, without a cure, and I felt that I could make a substantial difference.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
I think the most exciting development in MS research is the discovery of mechanistic and genetic links between MS and other conditions, such as neurotrauma, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. This could benefit research and people with MS directly, because knowledge and treatments could be transferrable between disorders that have previously been untapped.
Tell us about your current research project...
Multiple sclerosis is a complex disorder where there are lots of mechanisms contributing to disease progression. One of these processes is called oxidative stress, which is caused by a large increase in toxic molecules called reactive oxygen species. Oligodendrocyte cells, which are the cells that provide myelin, the fat in the brain that is attacked in MS, as well as the early forms of these cells, are especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. This study aims to explore whether the damage to DNA caused by oxidative stress to these cells may be contributing to the development and progression of MS.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Understanding the core processes behind MS is crucial for the development of new and effective treatments and improving the quality of life of those with MS. Effects of DNA damage to oligodendrocytes caused by oxidative stress have not yet been looked at in MS, and this study has the potential to discover previously unknown MS disease mechanisms of damage, both in the early stages of the disease as well as later in the course of the disease. If the mechanisms we uncover play an important role in MS, we can then create treatments that target this to improve the quality of life for those living with MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
The thing I enjoy most about working in the lab is the opportunity for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge between researchers. I also enjoy scouring the current literature and compiling information in order to discover new and innovative ideas for research. The main challenge I will probably face is time constraints, as my PhD has a limited time frame and there are many avenues for research I wish to explore.
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Ms Lillian Toomey