Meet The Researcher

Associate Professor Simon Murray

The University of Melbourne, VIC

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I am a 4WD enthusiast. I have taken the family away on several trips to faraway places and am planning several more. Looking forward to a long trip out to the Kimberley once the kids are all through school.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I think this is multi-factorial but has been largely influenced by my lived experience and scientific mentors. I had several school and Uni friends who had a parent with MS, that has always stuck with me. Later in life, when I developed and interest in neuroscience research, I remember reading some of Ben Barres early work which really opened up the field. My post-doc was in an overseas lab that worked with glial cells (oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells), and that's when things really clicked — the opportunity to merge these two aspects. I was really fortunate to then work with Trevor Kilpatrick, that really capped off the inspiration to get involved in MS research. Ultimately, it is the hope this all brings together that we might improve the livelihood of those with MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
There are two recent things that stand out to me as the most exciting developments in MS research. First is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) story, this has really changed the way we think about the causality of MS. The second is fundamental research on oligodendrocytes through the use of a multi-omics approaches. This has revealed remarkable heterogeneity within the oligodendrocyte lineage, across both different regions of the nervous system and across ageing. Perhaps most interestingly, this has also identified that oligodendrocytes respond differently to disease and can adopt a disease-associated 'state'.
Tell us about your current research project
My current research has two distinct arms. The first is looking at strategies to promote myelin repair, focusing on promoting the survival and increasing the capacity of oligodendroglia to generate new myelin. This has been a longstanding interest in the lab, and we have been fortunate to have been awarded seed funding from MS Australia for this, which has recently enabled a successful NHMRC Ideas Grant. The current research project is developing a new model system to examine the fundamental molecular mechanisms that drive oligodendrocytes to myelinate. Whilst we know a lot about oligodendrocytes, there is still much to be learnt about the molecular control of myelination. This is the focus of the recently awarded Incubator Grant, to develop the zebrafish (Danio rerio) model system to analyse the key signalling pathways and molecules activated that drive myelin growth.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The major focus of my research is to develop strategies that promote more complete myelin repair. Whilst we know a lot about oligodendrocytes, there is still much to be learnt about the molecular control of myelination. This is why my research is important, it will delve deeply into the key signalling pathways that are activated that promote myelin growth, as well as identify key molecules that are involved in this process. It is vital that we have a more complete understanding of the cellular mechanisms that promote myelin growth if we are to harness these pathways and molecules to effectively promote myelin repair.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
It's several things. The thrill of discovery is hard to beat, finding something for the first time and reporting on it. I also very much like working with students, post-docs and collaborators. Seeing students grow both intellectually and technically, encouraging post-docs to take control of their work and become independent, drawing in collaborators to bring new skills and perspectives to our work — it's all part of the growth of the lab, its interests, and the quality of our work. The greatest challenge is time — rigorous research takes time, care and patience. There are no quick fixes or short-cuts. Good work often takes time, and that is the challenge, it just takes longer than I, or anyone else for that matter, wants.

Current Research Project

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Simon Murray