Meet the Researcher

Dr Sarrabeth Stone

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, VIC

Dr Sarrabeth Stone is a Research Fellow at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Victoria.

With her mother living with multiple sclerosis (MS), Dr Stone has seen first-hand how MS can affect a person’s life – one of the reasons she was inspired to get involved in MS research.

When Dr Stone is not in the lab, she loves exploring the outdoors by mountain biking and rock climbing.

About Dr Sarrabeth Stone

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
When I am not in the lab, I love exploring the outdoors by mountain biking and rock climbing.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
A combination of factors. My mother has MS so I have seen first-hand the way MS can affect a person’s life. There are many ways in which we can work to help improve the lives of people with MS, including medicine, advocacy, fundraising and the part that I play - research. My love of neuroscience and learning is what drew me to MS research specifically. Throughout my undergraduate studies I became fascinated with the immune system and neuroscience. Then, during my honours and PhD, I was fortunate enough to join Professor La Flamme’s lab at Victoria University of Wellington which further ignited my interest in MS research and was the start of my career.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
There have been so many exciting developments it is hard to pick just one and there are so many discoveries in neuroscience as a whole that greatly benefit the field of MS. Broadly, I would say the development of new preclinical models such as the discovery of brain organoids was simply amazing. Within the field of MS specifically, I think the progress we have made in understanding the repair mechanisms of the brain has been so crucial. It’s important to understand how MS occurs and how we may prevent it, but for 1000s of people with MS, the development of new treatments targeted at preventing disease progression is paramount. This research has real potential to lead to the development of new therapeutics that promote remyelination and functional repair, which would be game changing for the treatment of people with MS.
Tell us about your current research project
Microglia, the brains immune cell, have a multitude of roles in the brain and in the context of MS their functions can be either damaging or protective. I am particularly interested in further understanding how these “protective microglia” promote myelin repair and protect axons in MS. My current research is focused on finding novel ways to regulate microglial function to promote myelin repair and protect axons in MS. To this end I am studying microRNA, a kind of molecular control switch that acts as one of the master regulators of cell function. My lab has been investigating microglial enriched microRNAs with the aim of identifying microRNAs that cause microglia to become protective and thus repair inflammatory damage. The overarching aim of this project is to identify one or more microglial microRNA with promyelinating functions, opening new avenues for novel therapeutics that promote myelin repair.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Disease modifying therapies have revolutionized MS treatment and reduce symptoms for many people with MS. However, they do not work for every person with MS, prevent long term disability, or repair the brain. As such, there is a pressing need to develop novel treatments to protect the brain and promote repair in MS. Working to address this need, my research focuses on understanding the role microglia play in myelin repair and identifying microglial microRNAs that will promote protection and repair of the brain. MicroRNAs regulate cellular function and represent a promising new class of therapeutics that have currently untapped potential. We aim to identify novel microglial microRNA that can be developed into new treatments promoting brain repair to prevent and treat the accumulation of disability in people with MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I have always enjoyed learning and discovering new things, I really love learning new techniques to answer questions. I’ll never forget the first time I looked at myelin under an electron microscope. I find working in the lab to be intellectually challenging and stimulating. I also love working in a collaborative group with other researchers, it’s so rewarding to be a part of a collaborative and uplifting team like I am at the Florey. Having a supportive team around you is essential in science because, it is often filled with failure and requires a lot of patience. By far the biggest challenge facing scientists today is obtaining sufficient funding for our research projects, hence I’d like to thank the generous contribution of MS Australia and its community for supporting my work.
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Sarrabeth Stone