Meet The Researcher

Ms Terry Purton

University of Tasmania, TAS

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I grew up on a property in North West Tasmania, abundant with vegetable gardens, orchards and even a bordering river. It gave me a deep appreciation of nature and a love of the great outdoors.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I have known people diagnosed with MS, and the high prevalence in my home state of Tasmania inspired me to pursue MS research. With a background in psychology, I was also aware that cognitive dysfunction is a common and debilitating symptom in MS and I was inspired to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of cognitive symptoms and how they may be better managed and treated.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
There have been many in recent years, but I think the potential role of the gut-brain axis in MS is an exciting direction for MS research. This relates to psychology and cognition, but may also hold a lot of promise for improving our understanding of the biological mechanisms of MS more broadly. There is still so much that we don't understand about the gut-brain axis and the numerous ways it can influence health and disease. I see this as a really exciting prospect for MS research moving forward.
Tell us about your current research project...
The aims of my research are two-fold. Firstly, to investigate the relationships between inflammatory biomarkers and cognition and how these change over time in MS. Then, to extend this work by conducting an exploratory trial, to examine the efficacy of a probiotic intervention to act on the gut-brain connection and improve cognitive symptoms in MS.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
The biological mechanisms of cognitive dysfunction in MS are complex. Whilst a small amount of existing research has examined the capacity of probiotics to improve outcomes in MS, additional evidence is needed to determine their effects on cognitive functioning and to better understand how they impact the gut-brain connection. My research will contribute to the evidence base regarding cognitive dysfunction, the gut-brain axis and the therapeutic application of probiotics in MS. Hopefully this will support the development of novel adjunct therapies to further improve the treatment of MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I have a great multidisciplinary team and love that there is always something new to learn! Often, research can generate as many questions as it does answers. The planning and patience that research requires can be a challenge, but it is a very humbling experience to be at the edge of discovery every day and to know that research outcomes could one day help to improve the lives of people with MS.
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Terry Purton