Childhood passion focussed on
finding a cure
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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