Affiliation(s): University of British Columbia
Dr. Helen Tremlett, University of British Columbia
Dr. Helen Tremlett is a Professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada in the Faculty of Medicine, Division of Neurology and Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. Dr Tremlett’s research program is funded through operating and foundation grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the MS Society of Canada, the MS Scientific Research Foundation, the US National MS Society, the Canada Chair Program, among others. Dr. Tremlett trained in pharmacoepidemiology and multiple sclerosis with a PhD from Cardiff University, UK. She heads the Tremlett Lab and the Epidemiology in MS research program with the vision of fostering excellence in multi-disciplinary clinical and epidemiological research to advance treatment-related knowledge and improve outcomes in those with MS. Ongoing research studies include: the MS prodrome, safety and effectiveness of the disease-modifying drugs for MS; pharmacogenomics; risk of MS in special populations; impact of comorbidities on MS outcomes; and the gut microbiome and MS.
How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
A lucky break made possible by the MS Society of Canada started my interests in MS research. As a newly minted PhD graduate (focused on MS), I was fortunate enough to gain a one-year post-doctoral award from the MS Society of Canada. I wanted to study MS further in the best place on earth - British Columbia - specifically the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. I had heard about Dr Paty's ground-breaking work with the beta-interferon pivotal clinical trials. That was nearly 15 years ago! I was then awarded a Don Paty Career Development Grant. I have many things that inspire me including: my past and present talented staff and trainees who are dedicated to MS research, people with MS whom I have the pleasure of interacting with and who use their skills to educate us all about living with chronic disease and people engaged with the MS Society who work tirelessly to fundraise—Go MS Walkers and MS Bikers!
What is the focus of your research? How did you become interested in MS research?
My research focus includes MS epidemiology; the MS prodrome; safety and effectiveness of the disease-modifying drugs for MS; pharmacogenomics; risk of MS in special populations; impact of comorbidities on MS outcomes; and the gut microbiome and MS. Why MS? As a pharmacy undergraduate in the UK I was fortunate enough to have a series of lectures devoted to MS. At this time there were no disease-modifying drug approved to treat MS; the first clinical trials for beta-interferon were ongoing. I was fascinated by this complex neurological condition where so much remained unknown, especially surrounding medications.
What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
People with MS I have met over the years. Also, my research team who comprise of smart young men and women who have devoted their careers to advancing our understanding of MS and to making a difference to people with MS.
How do you hope to change the lives of people living with MS through your research?
I have a multi-faceted program of research focused on advancing our understanding of MS. I hope to discover new avenues of inquiry that may benefit people with MS in the future, such as understanding the role of the gut microbiota in MS (poop!).
Another example is our work into the MS prodrome. MS can be hard to recognize because early symptoms such as fatigue, clumsiness, or problems with eyesight, can be vague or non-specific. This can be distressing for the affected individual and their families as they move through the healthcare system looking for answers. Even if MS is diagnosed soon after MS symptoms are recognized, it may have started months, or possibly years earlier. We have shown that healthcare use is higher than expected in persons with MS, even before the person or their doctor realizes that they have MS. But much remains unknown. We do not know if men and women, or people of different ages and backgrounds are affected differently. We will address these important issues – when does MS actually start and does it start differently for different groups of people? Our examination of this prodromal period of MS can point us towards a better way of identifying and managing MS. It will also give doctors and researchers a clearer understanding of the timing of MS onset and possible symptoms and signs to watch out for. We will use novel approaches to see how these signs and symptoms cluster or group together. Future researchers will be better equipped to know when to look for MS triggers in their search for ways to prevent or reduce the risk of MS and to prevent MS disability from occurring.
What do you enjoy most about your research? What are some of the challenges you face?
Enjoy most: 1. Making a difference in the lives of people with MS. 2. My research team. 3. The process of scientific discovery
Challenges: grant writing!
How important is the support from the MS Society of Canada in your research?
Very important. I came to Canada because of the MS Society. I have been fortunate enough to witness first-hand the monumental, positive impact the MS Society has had on MS research across Canada. And on shedding light as to what might cause MS or drive MS progression. This would not have been possible without MS Society support. On a personal level, with help from the MS Society, I have grown from one researcher to now a team of 15 young and vibrant men and women who have chosen to dedicate their careers to ending MS and improving the lives of those with MS. This would not have been possible without support from the MS Society.