Affiliation(s): University of British Columbia
Dr. Tam’s research interest in medical imaging goes back over 20 years. His Master’s thesis was in medical informatics, and Ph.D. (UBC, 2004) was in computer vision and scientific visualization. He was a Research Associate in Neurology at UBC from 2004 to 2007, and since 2007, has been a faculty member in Radiology. For the past 7 years, Dr. Tam’s main research interest has been applying machine learning (a sub-field of artificial intelligence) to brain images for biomarker discovery and clinical prediction in chronic neurological diseases, with a strong focus in multiple sclerosis.
How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
I have been interested in medical imaging for many years, and imaging is an important tool in MS research and clinical care. Improvements in imaging, promising therapies, and recent advances in machine learning are all exciting developments that inspire me.
What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?
The cohort is expected to be heterogeneous, similar to the Canadian MS population as a whole. It is exciting to have a large representative cohort to work with, but the heterogeneity will pose many technical challenges in image analysis and data management.
What is your role in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort?
I am one of the imaging pillar leads, primarily responsible for image analysis.
Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research and in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort?
This study requires very tight collaboration between the three scientific pillars of imaging, epidemiology, and immunology. From my perspective, my imaging work is only informative when put into context with clinical and other scientific data for a comprehensive view of the disease mechanisms.
How important is the support from the funders/donors in enabling you to conduct research?
There are very few opportunities, especially in Canada, to find support for such a large study. The support from the MS Society, Brain Canada, and Biogen is absolutely critical.
Why is it important that patients take part in this initiative?
This is a "real world" study to identify factors that contribute and/or predict clinical progression in people with MS, so it cannot happen without patients.
What potential outcomes do you expect to arise from the Canadian MS Progression Cohort?
The most important potential outcomes would be:
1) Improved understanding of the mechanisms of clinical progression in MS, using the evidence from imaging, epidemiology, and immunology. This would help develop therapies that target clinical progression.
2) Predictive factors that will allow patients at risk of clinical progression to be identified earlier, so that they can be monitored more closely and/or received more proactive treatment.