PERSONAL EXPERIENCES FUEL
A PASSION FOR SCIENCE
By Lisa Burling, LBPR
For Dr David Gonsalvez National Health and Medical Research Council / MS Research Australia Betty Cuthbert Fellow at the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University of Melbourne - the holy grail of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research is two-fold. “For me, it’s understanding exactly by what mechanism MS occurs and finding a way to prevent the disease altogether - or a suite of treatment options to halt the progressive component of MS.”
Dr Gonsalvez is driving an exciting and important research project entitled “Promoting myelin repair by targeting Wnt signalling” which the Trish MS Research Foundation is honoured to be co-funding with the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Working with Co-Investigator, Dr Junhua Xiao in the neurotrophin and myelin laboratory, Dr Gonsalvez will identify the way that Wnt signalling affects the cells which produce myelin and determine whether blocking the Wnt pathway and its inhibitory affects might then promote myelin repair.
“Myelin is the conductive layer present around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, and damage is caused by inflammation brought about by the immune system mistakenly attacking myelin. This important research project will determine the molecular characteristics of this pathway within the chronic lesions to isolate targets that might have therapeutic potential in future to slow the progression of MS,” he explains.
Dr Gonsalvez admits he’s always had a curious mind and been intrigued by science: “I can still remember the first time I looked down the old zeiss microscope at a slide I had stained; I was totally captivated by the colours and how beautiful this piece of neural tissue looked. This simple technique could be used to answer so many questions and I thought it was totally amazing. I still do.”
However, it was an experience via a family member that really catalysed and fuelled Dr Gonsalvez’s passion to pursue a career in science. His uncle, Dr Mario D’Cruz, was in the Fellowship year of his general surgical training when he had a car accident which left him quadriplegic.
“I moved in with my Uncle Mario after he returned home from rehabilitation. I happened to be completing my undergraduate studies and was one of his carers. His medical background and my study in neuroscience lead to fantastic discussions about the nervous system, it became pretty clear to us both how little we humans actually know about the brain. In addition, witnessing how he could just get on with life and continue to enrich his friends, family and the experience of other people with similar injuries was totally inspiring.”
Dr Gonsalvez continues: “I wondered how some brains, like Mario’s, have the capacity to respond in this way to circumstances that others can’t move past. Not only did this make me even keener to learn as much as I could about the brain and human body, it also instilled a resilience you need if you want to be a scientist today.”
Whether creating knowledge resulting in the better understanding of biological processes of disease, identifying novel therapeutic targets, or developing practical applications, Dr Gonsalvez admits he finds it easy to be motivated and passionate about what he does.
“When you know your efforts are directed toward contributing in some way to ultimately improving the outcomes for people with MS, passion and drive are not hard to muster. In addition, motivation and passion can be contagious; it’s easy to catch when you are around engaged people working at a common goal.”
Outside of the laboratory, Dr Gonsalvez is equally passionate about his family, as a proud husband to Raylyn and doting Dad to two small children – Harper, 2 and Otis, 3 months. He’s also a keen guitarist and loves busting out the old blues tunes, when The Wiggles get a break from being top of the set list!