Commitment to research

PhD candidate Rebecca Russell

Researcher in Focus: Mrs Rebecca Russell

MSWA-funded PhD candidate, Rebecca Russell who is part of Associate Professor Lucinda Black’s team at Curtin University takes us through her contributions to the ‘Elucidating diet in MS to improve disease outcomes’. MSWA’s funding has been supporting this work for over six years.

Could you provide an overview of your current research project?

With the help of people with MS and MS health professionals, we are developing an evidence-based online nutrition education program to provide people with MS the information they need about diets, foods and changing eating habits.

The internet hosts a wealth of information, not all of which is correct. The influx of information can be overwhelming, confusing, and conflicting, making it difficult for people to navigate and access information that aligns with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

To make it easier and simpler for people with MS, we will provide clear advice on what dietary changes to make and how to make healthy food choices. In addition, the program will help with selecting, planning, preparing, and cooking foods to create healthy meals.

The program and its effects on diet quality will be continually tested and updated in a study to improve the quality of life for people with MS. The findings from this study will then be used to develop a larger scale randomised controlled trial to gauge the impact.

What has attracted you to the research around the impact of diet on MS?

As a chef, I have always had a strong connection to food, healthy diets and people. Over the years, I became fascinated by how people interact with food and how I can make a difference to people’s lives. This encouraged me to do further studies in nutrition and get into research.

When I saw the chance to get involved in MS research, I searched the internet to find out what information was out there about diets and MS and was dismayed by how much conflicting advice there was.

I am passionate about helping people make healthy dietary changes that could benefit their symptom management and their overall health. I am privileged to have had so many people with MS share their stories with me through my research. This has inspired me to develop this nutrition education program, which will assist people with MS and their families not just in WA but across Australia.

What do you hope the outcome of this research will be?

I hope that this nutrition education program will help people with MS make healthy dietary changes that will be beneficial to their overall health as well as their MS symptoms.

I also trust it will teach them how to sift through conflicting information and equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to manage symptoms, such as fatigue, while selecting, planning, preparing, and cooking foods to create healthy meals. I am confident the program will be well suited to the needs of people with MS, and that they will enjoy completing it.

What’s next?

We have developed an online nutrition education program which includes a range of information, including interactive graphics, expert videos featuring people with MS and MS health professionals, activities, and engaging discussions around nutrition questions.

We are continuously fine-tuning and improving the program, based on the helpful feedback we have received from people with MS on the first module.

My research team and I are at a very exciting stage where we are ready to enrol 75 people with MS into a study to test the program over 6 weeks, starting in August. Each module will take around 1 hour per week to complete.

To find out more please contact

Learn more about Elucidating diet in MS.

Our $10m commitment to research

MSWA is proud to announce that in the 2021/2022 financial year, we are committing a record-breaking $10 million to neurological research.

This new $10 million contribution is being used by recipients to advance studies to clinical trials for new treatments and medications, develop and trial new apps and educational tools, and provide novel insights that add to the knowledge of the wider neurological research community.

Thanks to our investment into research, understanding of neurological conditions has significantly improved over the years. This investment would not be possible without Western Australians supporting our fundraising initiatives which allow MSWA funded researchers to continue their important work.

Information for researchers

MSWA forges strong partnerships with a range of research institutions. We are proud to provide significant funding annually for local, national and international research into MS and other neurological conditions.

Learn more about applying for MSWA research funding

Our research partners

MSWA are pleased to once again be partnering with MS Australia. This year, they will be distributing key MS funds to our WA based researchers on our behalf.

MSWA-funded research

Demyelinating Diseases

The Perron Institute - Led by Group Director, Clinical Professor Allan Kermode

This research team is involved in a number of research projects to investigate the clinical profile of different subgroups of Western Australian patients with MS which is a demyelinating disease.

Specifically, under their banner of MRI and genetic research, the team are:

  • Examining antibodies in RRMS
  • Conducting brain and serum neurofilament light analysis in people with benign and non-benign MS
  • Collecting clinical samples over time
  • Investigating biomarkers in MS
  • Looking at genetic determinants through immunophenotyping
  • Conducting quantitative MRI studies including building an MRI library, clinical comparisons, collaborative studies, walking rehabilitation through music, and the development of exercise guidelines for MS

Additional research is being conducted in cellular immunology, B-cell regulation and T-cell interaction, and immediate post-mortem single-cell sequencing and transcriptomics from brain tissues.

Other related work:

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Data Research Registry – MS Base

The Perron Institute – Key Researchers include Prof. Allan Kermode and Dr Marzena Fabis-Pedrini

As an ongoing study, this project is enrolling participants and contributing to national and international longitudinal data sets comprised of clinical data including blood results, therapies and treatments, MRIs, relapses.

This registry is for MS and has several sub-studies to gain insight into the efficacy of medications and treatments, pregnancy data, plus the outcomes and correlations between various external factors.

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Brain Plasticity

The Perron Institute - Led by Associate Professor Jenny Rodger

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Professor Rodger and her research team aim to understand brain plasticity and how to harness it, thereby producing new and effective treatments for patients with a wide range of neurological conditions.

Continuing important research into neuroplasticity, this study is moving on from evidence-based treatment protocols towards human clinical trials using transcranial magnetic stimulation for the rehabilitation of stroke, MS and more.

The hope remains to confirm the benefit of treatments, including TCMS, that build new pathways and increase repair in the brain through non-invasive interventions which complement standard rehabilitation therapies and improve outcomes.

Other related work:

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Neuroprotection Agent

The Perron Institute – Led by Adjunct Professor Bruno Meloni and Clinical Professor Neville Knuckey

This exciting project is the ongoing development of a neuroprotection agent for use in acute stroke and subsequent efficacy testing that will ultimately lead to clinical trials. The potential of this new treatment is that it could improve outcomes for patients after stroke, and potentially acquired brain injury, by reducing brain damage in the acute phase which is time critical.

Identifying the optimal effective dose of this neuroprotective agent in a clinical setting is of high importance because it will be used in conjunction with thrombolytic medication. This study has implications beyond Western Australia.

Other related work:

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Gut Microbiome in Parkinson’s Disease

The Perron Institute and Murdoch University – Key researcher is Dr Luke Whiley

This study is examining the link between fatty amino acids and the cognitive and motor severity of those living with Parkinson’s Disease. The concept behind this work is that the distribution and diversity of bacterial species has large role in disease development.

Looking at the potential functional role of the gut microbiome in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease, this project has been attempting to understand disease causation, and quantify the concentration of key metabolic pathways including short chain fatty acids, amino acids, and neurotransmitters, through mass spectrometry assays. Optimising the extraction method of metabolites from different biofluids is key to this research.

Other related work:

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Trajectories of Outcome in Neurological Conditions (TONiC)

The Perron Institute - led by Head of Genetic Epidemiology Research Professor Sulev Kõks

TONIC is a local project that has been used internationally for several conditions. It is a patient-centred longitudinal study to analyse various aspects of conditions including monitoring the impact on the quality of life of patients with neurological conditions from their perspective.

The Western Australian study has started with motor neurone disease with the potential to expand into studies for MS and Parkinson’s soon. By investigating the genetic influence on social, psychological, and biological function, the team are hoping to identify more personalised approaches to care and treatment.

Protocols, questionnaires and at home testing kits have been developed through a pilot study which involved feedback from disease experts and participants.

Other related work:

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Genomic Medicine

The Perron Institute – Led by Professor Sulev Kõks and Professor Anthony Akkari

This new project stream is investigating the possibilities of genomic medicine which combines DNA/RNA diagnostics, predictive analysis and interpretation. Their approach is to integrate genomic and cellular expression data to gain the necessary insight into the disease processes.

The intent is to identify genes that contribute to a predisposition for developing neurodegenerative conditions including MND, Parkinson’s and MS. Additionally, potentially identifying and developing a guide for new genetically targeted therapies to block the causal genes and reduce risk on a molecular level which could positively impact the rate of progression.

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Elucidating Diet in MS

Curtin University - Led by Associate Professor Lucinda Black

This research is built around the need for high-quality evidence on the influences of diet on MS while making sure that any findings support the requirements and values of people with MS. Goals include the development of educational resources and rigorous protocols for diet-related clinical trials.

Prof. Black is now the lead of a dedicated research program within CHIRI under the neurodegeneration banner. Four main research themes include:

  1. Quantitative analysis of national and international observational studies to test associations between diet and MS onset and disease progression using secondary data;
  2. Qualitative analysis using in-depth interviews and focus groups to identify diet behaviours/attitudes among people with MS, carers, and health professionals;
  3. The development and implementation of dietary education resources and programs for people with MS; and
  4. The development of rigorous protocols for a diet-related clinical trials for people with MS.

Related articles:

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Clinical Intervention Trial in RRMS

Curtin University – Led by Clinical Professor John Mamo

With a focus on dietary interventions, this clinical intervention trial involves a specific high-fat diet that is unlike any other diets trialled for MS. It aims to achieve remyelination by investigating potential effects of specific lipid nutraceuticals – medical preparations that have nutritional and medical value.

Establishing a small clinical trial initially will lend insights into reaching better myelin homeostasis in people living with relapsing-remitting MS by investigating the impact of lipids commonly found in the membranes of cells.

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Ageing and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Curtin University - Led by director of Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), Professor John Mamo

This team is looking at the effect of ageing on the development of neurodegenerative diseases, linking lifestyle factors that potentially increase the risk of Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, Huntington’s disease and MS. Research could potentially lead to the identification of preventative interventions and treatments.

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Clinical Trial for Treating Dementia

Curtin University – Led by director of Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), Professor John Mamo

This novel trial is investigating a potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s by repurposing a drug used previously for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Using Probucol, the team hope to suppress the production and leakage of small molecules in the blood that build up causing brain damage and protect brain capillaries to improve cognitive function and slow degeneration.

If successful, this may potentially benefit other neurological conditions with dementia-like symptoms.

Related articles:

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Stroke Speech Therapy Long-term Intervention

Curtin University – Associate Professor Anne Whitworth

This team are developing a novel therapy approach for people with aphasia - a communication condition typically seen after stroke. The project proposes a highly structured language therapy delivered using a natural interactive approach that combines cognitive and language skills while focusing on speech in daily life. Additionally, it is individualised to maximise therapy benefits.

More recently, the team’s focus is on delivering the therapy using a digital platform – the ‘NARNIA Communication App’. MSWA funding will allow the development of this App and to test its application within MSWA and the wider community. Creating the App allows individuals to use their tablet or phone enabling intervention and therapy to occur anywhere.

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Systematic Profiling in Neurological Conditions (SPIN)

Edith Cowan University - Led by Executive Dean, Medical and Health Sciences, Professor Moira Sim

Translating research into practice, this multidisciplinary team are identifying markers in individuals that will assist with developing and delivering more targeted therapeutic interventions for Stroke, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and MS. Ultimately, these researchers are improving quality of life and outcomes by providing evidence-based information and application.

Specific interventions include light therapy glasses promoting more effective sleep and reducing fatigue, and the MindPod exoskeleton for upper limb rehabilitation.

Related articles:

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PhoCIS Biobank

Telethon Kids Institute – Key Researcher is Dr Jonaton Leffler

This study, overseen by Professor Prue Hart, involves the analysis if samples from the PhoCIS biobank housed at Telethon Kids Institute to identify MS pathogenesis by examining antigens through innovative methods. Specifically, female predispositions are being investigated through analysis of cell dysfunctions, and pathogenic and autoimmune mechanisms.

Dr Leffler's work is related to previously funded research that investigated the effects of UVB treatment in delaying the development of MS in high-risk individuals.

Other related work:

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Other MSWA-funded research allocated by MSRA

MSRA selected projects

MSWA allocates significant funding to MSRA which is then allocated to various Australian MS research projects

Each year as part of our research financial allocation, MSWA allocates significant funding to MSRA.

This is then allocated to various Australian MS research projects with a nominated portion to support the International Progressive MS Alliance.

Some Australian MS projects we are currently funding through MSRA include:

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The International Progressive MS Alliance

MSWA is proud to fund the International Progressive MS Alliance through MSRA, working towards finding a greater understanding and better treatments for progressive MS

MSWA is proud to fund the International Progressive MS Alliance. This is an unprecedented global collaboration of MS organisations, researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, and people with progressive MS, striving to create a better understanding of the progressive process and accelerate access to treatments for people living with progressive MS.

MSWA has allocated $1.7M (up to 2019/2020) to this Alliance and there will be an additional $1M this financial year.

Read more about the International Progressive Alliance here.

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To find out more about MSWA's investment in research, or about our locally funded research programs, contact:

Libby Cassidy - MSWA Brand & Communications Manager
M 0424 136 560