Meet The Researcher

Associate Professor Todd Hardy

The University of Sydney, NSW

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
I am a published poet, and a voracious reader who enjoys food, wine, literature, history, music, theatre and the visual arts.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My inspiration comes from a combination of a general curiosity about the world, and a passion to help my MS patients. Knowledge is essential for clinicians and patients with MS to help understand the disease and manage its impact. The more reliable research information there is about MS, the more confident I can be in managing MS patients in my clinic.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
Without a doubt the development and availability of MS disease modifying therapies has been the most exciting development in MS. Twenty-five years ago there were no treatment options that could impact disease course in MS, but now clinicians have more than a dozen different types of therapy whose efficacy is supported by high quality trial evidence. Already my colleagues and I are seeing the positive impact of these therapies on our patients, such that the future looks brighter than ever for patients newly diagnosed with MS. The challenge for the future is to develop MS therapies with better safety profiles, as well as treatments that can potentially reverse disability.
Tell us about your current research project...
An important goal of MS therapy research is to develop a neuroprotective agent which can promote remyelination and inhibit the chronic axonal degeneration which drives disability progression. What is needed to address these problems is a biomarker of myelin integrity that can help to predict the risk of further demyelinating events and be utilized in studies as a marker of remyelination. In this exploratory study, conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Anthony Don and Associate Professor Laura Piccio also of the University of Sydney, we propose to measure the myelin lipids, galactosylceramide (GalCer), and sulfatide, in the plasma of patients with MS and healthy controls (HCs) using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. It is hypothesized that these myelin lipids will be present in higher concentrations in patients with MS than in HCs. These lipids are relatively unique to myelin and therefore have the potential to be biomarkers of myelin integrity in MS, a finding which would have translational implications for the clinic and in research.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
If these myelin lipids are present in higher concentrations in MS, then the next step would be to perform longitudinal studies to determine how the levels of the myelin lipids change over time, whether they vary between different types and stages of MS, whether they correlate with other markers of disease activity and progression, and whether MS therapies reduce the levels. The ideal outcome of this type of research would be if one day it became possible to use myelin lipids in blood samples as biomarkers to determine whether there is ongoing damage to the myelin in people with MS sufficient to indicate a failure of treatment and the need to switch their MS therapy. These traces of myelin lipids might also be used as markers of protection and regeneration of nervous tissue in trials of new experimental treatments in MS.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
In my research role I enjoy the freedom to investigate scientific questions about MS which relate directly to the MS patients I am seeing in clinic and to collaborate with neuroscientists in the lab such as Associate Professor Piccio and Associate Professor Don. To be involved in work that contributes to knowledge about MS, and that may improve the lives of others, is rewarding. The main challenges I face are in finding the time to pursue research activities in the context of busy clinical and teaching responsibilities, and the research money to fund the various research projects I would like to explore.
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Todd Hardy