Meet The Researcher


Dr Vivien Li

The Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
Outside of work, I enjoy running and have done two half marathons and a full marathon, playing touch rugby and painting.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I became interested in neurology as a medical student, when I did my first small research project in MS and since then I have been continued working both clinically and through research in MS. Whilst I was undertaking my fellowship in London, I was involved in several clinical trials and particularly enjoyed meeting, working with and learning from the participants who have all been affected by MS in different ways. While it has been encouraging seeing the progress that has been made in developing treatments for relapsing MS, I have been particularly inspired by the drive and motivation of mentors, fellow colleagues and people with MS to find treatments that will slow, down and ultimately stop or even reverse the accumulation of disability in progressive MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
There has been a lot of progress in the last decade in developing new highly effective disease-modifying therapies to reduce inflammatory disease activity in relapsing remitting MS. This is great for patients and clinicians as there are now many more options available and treatments can be tailored to each individual. The recent research into the link between Epstein Barr Virus and MS has also been very interesting.
Tell us about your current research project... 
I am using one of two 7-Tesla MRI scanners in Australia, which has over twice the magnetic strength of standard hospital scanners, to study brain inflammation in patients with MS who need to stop or pause their disease-modifying treatment. This could be due to different reasons, such as when changing therapy because of side effects or insufficient efficacy. Patients on certain therapies do not develop a protective immune response following COVID-19 vaccination, meaning they and their doctors could decide to pause therapy to be vaccinated. Balancing potential risks of relapses without treatment versus problems of continuing therapy can be difficult. This research will study how brain inflammation is affected by stopping or pausing treatment using new MRI technologies, which provide better images, comparing them to routine hospital scans to see if smaller and subtler changes of MS activity can be identified. This will provide more information to make treatment decisions.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
I have been fortunate to receive funding from MS Australia for two projects, one laboratory-based and one clinical. Both sides are important, with the laboratory project aiming to develop an innovative approach to manipulate the immune system that may lead to new treatments for MS, in particular progressive forms of MS for which there are currently few effective disease-modifying therapies. On the clinical side, I am used advanced MRI techniques to better understand what happens to MS disease activity when patients need to switch or interrupt their disease-modifying therapy. This can be a challenging period with increased risk of relapse and we hope our study will help better guide management in these scenarios.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I enjoy the varied nature of the work, from seeing people affected by MS in research studies to collaborating with other colleagues from different fields to learning new clinical and research skills and techniques. On the other hand, one of the challenges particularly with laboratory-based projects is that experiments may not always work and a lot of repetition can be required to make progress, but it is very rewarding when you get an interesting and novel result.
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Vivien Li