Meet The Researcher

Dr Phu Hoang

Dr Phu Hoang

Neuroscience Research Australia, NSW

Let's get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
As a physiotherapist specialising in rehabilitation in MS, I have worked with thousands of people with MS in the past 21 years. I deeply empathise the functional losses, especially in physical activities, and compromised quality of life experienced by people with MS. I am also an enthusiastic photographer. I have taken may nice portraits of people with MS that I have met, which have brought big smiles on their faces.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
While there has been over 30 years of good quality research showing the benefits of rehabilitation in MS, there are still many clinical questions that need further research to provide evidence for effective interventions. There are still gaps in research regarding evidence for optimal exercise training doses for people with MS with severe disability (EDSS >6.5), for various MS sub-types as well as for older people with MS, or evidence for types of exercises that can reduce the risk of falls in people with MS. We also need evidence to ascertain the effects of exercises modalities and doses on neurotrophic factors known to be neuroprotective, potentially slowing the progression of MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Researchers in MS have made significant progress and found breakthrough solutions that can potentially change the world for everyone with MS. In the last decades we have seen many disease-modifying drugs approved for treating and managing MS, and more potential MS therapies in development or in the pipeline (e.g. Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant treatment) than at any other time in history. Better understanding of MS pathogenesis has helped with more quickly diagnosis of the disease, enabling early therapy slow disease activity. In addition, new technology has recently been innovatively applied to alleviate the impacts of signs and symptoms in MS, leading to improvement in daily functions.
Tell us about your current research project...
To date, research on exercises in MS have yet incorporated specific gait training or considered other factors that may affect walking such as ankle joint contractures or severe knee hyper-extension. Our team at Neuroscience Research Australia are devising and evaluating the effects of a tailored exercise training program to maximize mobility targeting identified weak muscle groups and factors that lead to impaired gait.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Clinical observations suggest that people with MS at an early stage have different "patterns" of muscle weakness compared with those at a later stage of the disease. To date, there is a lack of understanding of the "pattern" of muscle weakness in the lower limbs of people with MS at different disease steps (characterised by EDSS). This project will fill this gap and in addition, will advance the understanding of the contribution of the weakness in different lower limb muscles to the altered gait in people with MS. The project will provide clinicians with evidence for more effective treatments of impaired mobility, one of the most common and disruptive consequences of multiple sclerosis that have a profound effect on independence and activities of daily living for many patients living with MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Being able to successfully translate the findings in the lab into clinical environments is the goal of researchers. It is therefore extremely rewarding to observe the outcomes from the works in the lab and that these outcomes can potentially improve physical dysfunctions and quality of life in people with MS. However, the unpredictable progressing nature and multi-factorial variability of the disease makes it very challenging for researchers to design adequate long-term studies.
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Phu Hoang