Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott was born in Germany and completed her medical degree at the University of Heidelberg. She finished her PhD on pain pathways at the Neurophysiology Department of the University of Heidelberg and began her residency at the University Hospital of Freiburg, Germany. Most of her neurology training was completed at the University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland, where she joined the internationally highly successful MS research group of Professor Ludwig Kappos.
After gaining her qualifications for Australia, Professor Lechner-Scott started a specialised MS clinic in Newcastle, which has steadily grown to be to one of the largest in the country with over 1300 patients in the Hunter New England and Mid-North Coast Local Health Districts.
With national and international collaborations (ANZGene and IMSGC) her group has identified now over 250 gene regions that predispose to MS. They were also the first to identify gene regulation methods (hypomethylation in HLA-DRB 1501) which might well explain the interaction between genes and known environmental risk factors like smoking, sun exposure and glandular fever. The group were further able to demonstrate that anxiety and stress levels, cognitive deficits and fatigue are high even early in the disease course, and that anxiety can impair memory function.
Her team is about to launch several clinical trials, including one that explores the effects of trans-magnetic stimulation of the brain (the TAURUS study) and a cross-disciplinary trial looking at neurometabolics (the effect of diet on the brain) in MS alongside Professor Tracy Burrows from the University of Newcastle. They are also still working on understanding Myelin Oligodendrocyte Glycoprotein Antibody Disease (MOGAD) which frequently affects children and can lead to more severe visual loss compared to MS.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a devastating disease affecting predominantly young people in their most productive years.
The last time we analysed the Australian census data, we found that the prevalence of MS had doubled in Newcastle.
We are about to analyse the 2006 – 2021 census data so it will be interesting to see whether this trend has continued. Currently, around 50-60 people are diagnosed with MS in the Hunter New England and Mid North Coast every year and the prevalence of MS is around 124 people per 100 000. There are currently 33,000 people living with MS in Australia and 2.8 million worldwide.
I have spent over three decades of my career researching MS. The uncertainty if you can continue a productive life or end up in a wheelchair is the most challenging part of the disease.
My particular interests include:
- How are genes regulated and interact with the environment and can this predict the severity of disease?
- How frequent are symptoms like memory deficits, fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression in MS? What can we do about them? How does the disease cause these symptoms? How do these symptoms influence the disease course?
- Can we identify these symptoms early with new imaging techniques and do current treatments influence them?
- Can transmagnetic stimulation of the brain, similar to what is used for depression, improve outcomes for people with MS?
- Can we regenerate or repair myelin that has been destroyed by MS?
- How does MS impact conception and pregnancy?
- Is there a connection between glandular fever and MS?
- How can we measure neurometabolics during the MS disease course? Can diet impact these neurometabolics and so the severity of MS symptoms?
Why did you get into research?
The brain is the most undiscovered organ in the body and I have always been driven to figure out things that I don't quite understand. Neuroscience has fascinated me since beginning my studies with describing pain pathways for my PhD. I then focused on the genetic condition myotonic dystrophy and the neurological impact of this disorder, which stimulated my interest in genetics and neurobiology of MS.
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
Working with people with MS is very rewarding. Not only do I have a chance to meet a lot of young people and accompany them through their chronic disease but they also inspire and encourage me. My vision is to prevent the disease occurring in the first place or at least allow anyone that is diagnosed with it today to live a normal, fulfilled life.
The current drug therapies that we use are proving to be very effective in stopping the progress of the disease. People with MS now have a similar life expectancy to that of everyone else. It’s about early diagnosis and treatment so that the damage doesn’t occur in the first place.
The next steps are around working out if it’s possible to regenerate damaged myelin and continuing to understand the impact of things like epigenetics. We are currently exploring whether there is a connection between past infection with glandular fever (Epstein-Barr virus) and the onset of MS.
A further research focus is pregnancy in MS as most women with MS are of childbearing age. Together with IVF specialists, we are investigating if MS is affecting the chance to conceive and how MS and its treatment impact the pregnancy itself.
- Neurologist with expertice in clinical trials, phase II-IV. All patients included in a large prospective data base that include 37 countries called MS Base with clinical details. Most patients have stored DNA, RNA and serum as well as yearly MRIs.
- Professor Lechner-Scott is a leader in several clinical trials where she has been the Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator. Jeannette is currently the MS Clinical Lead at the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic Newcastle
- Member of advisory board for MS society
- ANZGene and IMSGC member
- Australian representative of the MS International Federation
- Member of iwiMS (international women in research for MS)
- Board of directors MSPlus
- Board Member of Hunter Medical Post Graduate Institution since 2013
- Australasian College of Physicians
- Australasian Association of Neurologists
- Advisory Board Member for Bayer, Biogen, Genzyme, Merck, Novartis and TEVA
- Lead of Neuroimmunology as part of the Immune Health Program, University of Newcastle
- Chair of Australian MS Clinical Trials Network
- Executive Board member of NSW MS Research & Clinical Trials Network
- Medical and Scientific Board of MS Australia
- Member of the Research Management Council of the School for Medicine and Public Health
- Associate Editor Frontiers of Neurology
- Editorial Board Member of Translational Medicine & Research
- Australian Representative for MSA on the International Medical and Scientific Board.
- Member of the ANZAN scientific and program committee
- Chief editor for MS and related disorders