Science with a purpose

07 September, 2017

Following the announcement of the MS Research Australia-Macquarie Group Foundation Paired Fellowship, MS Research Australia Advocate and Kiss Goodbye to MS Ambassador, Jillian Kingsford Smith spoke to Professor Bruce Taylor and Dr Kaylene Young on what this grant means for the MS community.

Anyone living with MS has a different perspective or indeed a heightened sense of both the significance and value of time. In what is believed to be a world first, the MS Research Australia-Macquarie Group Foundation Paired Fellowship program provides hope to people living with MS by putting laboratory and clinical science side-by-side. It potentially fast tracks ground breaking research, translating it into reality for the benefit of the MS community.

‘One of the things this fellowship has done, which is very important, is brought a clinical researcher and a research scientist together,’ explains Professor Taylor. ‘Kaylene and I both realised when we started talking about the development of our project that because our lines of enquiry and interests in MS coalesced, that we could, in fact,
enhance what each other was doing.’

‘Kaylene is committed to taking my clinical findings and giving it a significant scientific underpinning and I can take what Kaylene has discovered and bring that into the clinical environment,’ continued Professor Taylor. ‘This has been a major move forward for both of us. It would be easy to stay rooted in our own silos but instead we’re bridging a gap, enhancing the work of one another and accelerating the outcomes. That in itself is groundbreakingly important.’

For a research scientist, security is something they unfortunately learn to live without. However, the three-year grant has inspired the pair to envisage loftier, long-term goals.

‘Without the fellowship, I would still be carrying out research, but it would likely be far more fragmented,’ explained Dr Young. ‘This fellowship allows me to commit to my goal and also work with Bruce to be able to achieve better outcomes for people with MS. I can be more ambitious with my planning and goals because I have that guarantee of support.’

As a clinician, Professor Taylor speaks to people living with MS on a daily basis. ‘The MS community are seriously supportive of research, but what they want to see is research that is not completely unrelated to their own situation in life,’ said Professor Taylor. ‘They want to see science with a purpose; science where they can see an outcome that may potentially change the way they live with the disease.’

Any major medical or scientific advancement will be riddled with dead ends but a paired fellowship program such as this allows for a shortened time between making a discovery and being able to say ‘yes that’s worth pursuing; that’s worth bringing into a clinical environment to progress.’ Obviously, shortening that timeframe is incredibly valuable to the MS community. All too often wonderful scientific discoveries are announced, but with the caveat that a potential benefit may be ten, fifteen or even more years away from realisation.

Professor Taylor and Dr Young are focused on developing pathways to shorten that timeframe, expediting the translation of their research into reality. The pair aim to take their ideas and bring them into a clinical trial setting within two to three years. And whilst that may sound like a long time, in science that’s an exceptionally short time span. Following that research phase, the goal is to spend only three to five years on the clinical evaluation phase. In a nutshell, the paired fellowship will enable the translation of research into practice within five to eight years, rather than ten years plus. ‘This fellowship will absolutely change the way I operate clinically. It will make me think about aspects of my work from a different perspective and I daresay make me chase things harder,’ explained Professor Taylor. ‘It will make me want to really understand findings more extensively and then also show how they are translated into better outcomes for people living with MS.’

Jillian Kingsford Smith

Jillian Kingsford Smith has worked internationally as a journalist, turning her hand to writing books in 2012 when she was diagnosed with MS at the age of 42. She is a Kiss Goodbye to MS Ambassador, MS Research Australia Advocate and best-selling author.

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