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Feb 2017
Trish Foundation contributes to first-ever discovery
Jun 2017
Researchers funded by the Trish Foundation making great progress
Dec 2014
2015 Funding announced
Mar 2015
Investigating new treatment options
Oct 2015
Progress in MS Research Conference
Feb 2016
2016 Round of Funding
Sep 2016
Dr Gu's Incubator Grant announced
Jan 2017
New Research Projects commencing 2017 announced

Childhood passion focussed on

finding a cure

When you ask a dedicated and hard-working scientific researcher what three things he’d take to a deserted island, it’s no surprise to discover two items are the ultimate in relaxation, but one is completely focused on getting back to his life and his work.     

 

Photo: The Westmead Institute for Medical Research

“What would I take with me? Sunglasses, a hammock, and a kayak – to enjoy the waves and then to escape when the time is right,” confesses Dr Lawrence Ong, who is undertaking his first research project funded by the Trish MS Research Foundation. He has been awarded the Betty Cuthbert Postgraduate Scholarship co-funded by National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and MS Research Australia. This prestigious Scholarship is 50 per cent funded by the NHMRC, with the Trish MS Research Foundation fully funding the MS Research Australia component.  

In simple terms, Dr Ong is focused on trying to understand why individuals develop MS and his scholarship, funded by the Trish Foundation, will allow him to pursue research, without the distraction of full time clinical work.  

“We know that there are both genetic and environmental risk factors that appear to play a part, but we don’t understand all of the specific mechanisms which ultimately result in disease”, expands Dr Ong.  “My project is trying to understand why MS risk seems to be set in childhood and adolescence. Current research suggests that this is related to latitude and Vitamin D, but why this is, is unclear. I will be using gene sequencing technology to try and help answer this question.”  

Dr Ong’s laboratory is based at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research on the Westmead Hospital Campus in Sydney. It’s been an ideal start as he also trained at Westmead Hospital as a medical student, plus completed most of his Immunology training there.    

“Our group’s specialty is immunogenetics, so we incorporate both immunological and gene sequencing techniques in our work. It is an exciting field to be in, because the technology is developing so rapidly and being applied to questions that could not previously be addressed with the tools available. This has led to new discoveries which are being made at a very rapid rate,” Dr Ong says.  

“The breakthroughs that have been made in understanding MS have been inspirational, and our laboratory has been involved in some of the major ones, pinpointing specific risk genes in MS. There are still so many questions to be answered, but there is an expectation that the rate of discovery will only keep gaining pace.”  

Like many people who excel in their chosen field, Dr Ong’s passion for science and discovery was with him from a very young age. “I always imagined myself as a scientist; I studied maths, physics and chemistry at high school and then psychology at University.  During my medical degree, I was fortunate enough to receive scholarships which allowed me to pursue placements in rural and regional Australia as well as in Vietnam. This allowed me to see the diversity of medical practice and medical systems that exist. It also reminded me of how lucky we are to have access to such good medical care here in Australia.”  

Having recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary, Dr Ong has very little spare time for activities outside of his research, but recognises the importance of striking a balance, as external influences foster fresh ideas and motivation.

“I love spending time outdoors which usually happens on my bike or in a kayak. I’m currently training for a three day bicycle ride from London to Paris in July. At home, I like to think I’m somewhat handy in the garden, having cultivated some ultra-spicy habanero chillies and glossy eggplants this year!”  

Dr Ong joins his fellow scientific researchers in believing a cure for MS is not far away: “If we can work out the mechanisms which lead to people developing MS, a cure will be that much closer.”

Trish Foundation & MS Research Australia Working together to find a cure for MS
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