In the 2018 funding round, two up-and-coming researchers have been funded to use web-based programs to study MS. Ms Amy-Lee Sesel from the University of Sydney, and Mr Daniel Merlo from Monash University, have both been awarded PhD scholarships.
Web-based services and treatments for people with MS are highly attractive since they can be delivered at a lower cost and are able to reach people regardless of their location. This means people based in more remote locations or those with limited mobility due to their MS will also have the potential to benefit from these services and treatments.
Ms Amy-Lee Sesel is a provisionally registered psychologist who will investigate depression and anxiety in people with MS. It is known that people with MS are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than the rest of the community. Previous research by Ms Sesel has shown that mindfulness is likely to be an effective treatment for these conditions for people with MS.
With the support of a two year NHMRC-MS Research Australia co-funded PhD scholarship Ms Sesel will now develop an online mindfulness program specifically for people with MS. She will first conduct focus groups in order to tailor the web-based program to their specific needs. She will then design a new online mindfulness tool based on this information and test whether it works via a clinical trial. Ms Sesel hopes to be able to reduce fatigue, pain, depression and anxiety in people with MS.
Mr Daniel Merlo will be designing a new way to measure changes in thinking abilities due to MS. Up to 65% of people with MS experience changes in their thinking, such as memory loss, difficulties with problem solving and a slowing of the speed at which they can think. These changes can dramatically effect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and maintain employment. Currently, it is difficult to detect and measure changes in these areas and is usually done via face-to-face testing in a clinic which can take several hours to complete.
During his three-year scholarship, Mr Merlo will determine if brief, web based programs are able to accurately detect changes in thinking abilities in people with MS. The program has the potential to provide a very rapid tool to test changes in thinking and allow people with MS to complete the testing themselves at a time and location that is convenient for them. Mr Merlo also plans to investigate the factors that may influence changes in thinking abilities in MS, such as employment, education level or other life events and medication use.
These studies have the potential to provide great flexibility in the way that health professionals can track and manage the symptoms of MS, and allow people with MS access to these services regardless of their mobility and where they live.