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Breakthrough study shows great promise

Dr Ben Emery

Since graduating from the University of Melbourne in December 2000 with a BSc (Hons, First Class), the career of Dr Ben Emery, has gone from strength to strength.        

Dr Emery’s Postgraduate Research Scholarship, commencing 2001, was wholly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which only funds the highest calibre research projects and in 2004 Dr Emery was awarded the Young Investigators Prize at the Progress in MS Research Meeting in Melbourne.  

Stanford University in the US offered Dr Emery a Postdoctoral position in the Department of Neurobiology commencing 2005, a position supported by a NHMRC CJ Martin fellowship.  

“From a work perspective, a definite highlight of my time in the US was the opportunity to work with Professor Ben Barres at Stanford University” says Dr Emery.  “Ben Barres is an incredibly tireless and vibrant scientist, and I think much of the current resurgence of research on glia (the “supporting” cells in the brain, including the myelin-forming oligodendrocytes) can be attributed to his passion for these cells over the past two decades.”  

“During my time in his lab Ben really gave me the free range and encouragement to follow up on my research interests, and the result was the discovery of a gene that is instrumental in coordinating the myelination process. Through Ben’s lab I was also involved in the Myelin Repair Foundation, a US foundation funding and encouraging collaborations between laboratories with an interest in myelin repair. Through this I was introduced to a lot of other great teams and investigators who I had previously only known by reputation.”  

Australian MS research is very fortunate that Dr Emery, who says he thinks he was always drawn to neurobiology research with relevance to human conditions, has returned home.  

“We are lucky to have a person of the calibre of Ben Emery devoting his considerable intellect to multiple sclerosis related research. I have every confidence that his work will ultimately be a key factor in improving the lives of people with multiple sclerosis,” says Professor Trevor Kilpatrick.

The Trish Foundation is funding Dr Emery’s current research, “Understanding the events that control central nervous system myelination” at Howard Florey Institute Melbourne.  

Dr Emery says that one of the contributing factors to disease progression in MS is the fact that remyelination (myelin repair) becomes less efficient as the disease progresses.  

“My research is based on trying to understand the signals that normally drive the myelination process,” says Dr Emery. “This includes both the signals that nerve cells provide to oligodendrocytes (the cells that produce myelin), and the signaling pathways within the oligodendrocytes that allow them to coordinate the cellular changes needed to generate myelin.”  

“Generally my research starts off identifying signals that modulate myelination during development in the mouse, and then moves into testing these signals in mouse models of myelin repair. I hope that by fully understanding the myelination process we will be able to develop treatments designed to recreate an environment that promotes remyelination in MS. These treatments could then complement the current therapies that target the immune system.”  

Life for Ben Emery, husband and father of a daughter almost two, away from the lab is anything but dull.  He says he functions much better with some “decompression” time!  This has ranged from rock climbing, sea kayaking and spending five days climbing El Capitan, a 900 metre high rock face in Yosemite in the US to bushwalking in Tasmania and the Victorian alps and cross-country skiing, rock climbing and kayaking back home in Australia.  

As the author or co-author of 12 publications, as well as oral and poster presentations at 18 conferences, one wonders how Dr Emery manages to fit so much into each of his very busy and productive days.  

Dr Emery says most of his contact with people with MS has come about since he developed his research interests through groups such as the MS Society and the Myelin Repair Foundation in the US.  

“Meeting and talking with these people has definitely helped put my research into a human context for me and sustain my interest in it,” says Dr Emery.  “I have also known researchers in the field who have close family members with MS - it’s clearly a powerful motivator.”  

“Once again the Trish Foundation is backing a winner in funding this outstanding and inspiring young researcher,” says Jeremy Wright, Executive Director MS Research Australia.

Breaking news - January 2012

Dr Ben Emery, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Neuroscience, has received the AW Campbell Award from the Australian Neurological Society (ANS) for his postdoctoral research.  

For additional information please click here.

 

 

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