Jo Anne Stratton is an assistant professor in McGill University’s Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery who joined The Neuro in 2019. Stratton’s fields of concentration are neuroimmunology and nerve cell regeneration.
Tell us more about your work. What do you hope to achieve?
I aim to understand how neurodegenerative processes in multiple sclerosis (MS), especially advanced stages, are driven. Currently, MS drugs that target inflammation are widely used, yet the disease still usually progresses. What drives this progression? Are there other therapeutic targets that can be exploited to halt progression? My research focuses on understanding how the brain’s circulatory system, including cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), is affected in neurodegeneration and inflammation. I am especial interested in understanding one largely understudied glia cell type, the ependymal cell, that lines the large majority of the brain’s CSF system.
What motivates you to do the work that you are doing?
I first became interested in becoming a scientist during my undergraduate studies after seeing my father’s MS progress to a point where he was living in a wheelchair. Since high school, I have always been interested in how the body works, and always took courses that gave me a general understanding of human physiology and biology. This was not enough to satisfy my curious mind, and my strong desire to fight the war against MS, and so I enrolled in specialised neuroscience-related courses and undertook a research-based intensive undergraduate research program at the University of Melbourne. Through this, the spark was lit, and I have been pursuing an academic career ever since. Understanding how the immune system interacts with brain cells to drive diseases like MS, but also how the immune system drives beneficial outcomes, is what I am excited about. The hope that this knowledge can one day help people suffering from disease is what drives me every day.
How will your work help to advance research and impact patients?
The brain’s cerebral spinal fluid system turns over 2-3 times per day, meaning that the production, flow and elimination of this fluid through the brain is extremely high pace. CSF is composed of ions, hormones and vitamins, but accumulates many by-products produced by brain cells. If the efficiency of the circulation of this fluid (either to enter, move through, or exit the brain) is compromised, it would result in the brain being bathed in CSF components, including by-products that could be harmful to brain health. The impact of this on brain health is not well understood, especially in complex diseases like MS. Understanding the impact of this will be very important to understand, and potential prevent, pathological mechanisms driven by these processes.
Tell us something interesting about yourself
My husband and I are children book authors. We write and illustrate books about the real-life stories of how a person living with disability (about my dad with MS) can still reach for the stars and achieve great things. This year we published three books, let me know if you are interested in learning more!
So I'm interested in multiple sclerosis. There's a lot of research now trying to understand how the degeneration happens.
And that's really where my work comes in. I'm interested in understanding how the brain's circulation and defects in that circulation might contribute to degeneration.
Actually, when I was very young my dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And from there, I've always had a passion for research, medical research.
That passion, coupled with my dad's experience and my experience with the disease, has really been my motivation to tackle the disease and help find a cure.
My husband and I, we are authors of a children's book series. It's about how my dad and anyone living with a disability can still live life to the fullest, achieve great things in their lives.
The books are all about his real-life stories and what he's done, and hopefully inspiring others to continue to do great things, irrelevant of any situation.