Photo: Close up of researcher working in the lab

The next generation of MS researchers

Grace Birch is a PhD student at Imperial College London. We went to find out more about her work and her interest in MS research.

What is your PhD about?

I’m looking at a type of cell called a natural killer cell (NKC). These cells fight viral infections and we now know that they play a role in autoimmune conditions. In our lab, we found that the NKCs change in people with MS who are experiencing an acute relapse, compared with people who are stable.

My work focuses on learning more about the role NKCs play in relapsing MS.

Where do you hope your work will lead to?

I think all research is extremely valuable even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a new drug. As we learn more about our immune system we realise it's a highly complex system with lots of cell types that each have specific roles to play.

I hope my project feeds into this and opens up new roads to finding treatments for MS.

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When I was young, my mum was diagnosed with MS. At the age of seven, I made every effort to learn all about it – and decided then that I was going to be a scientist and find a cure for MS.

What made you want to work in MS research?

When I was young, my mum was diagnosed with MS. At the age of seven, I made every effort to learn all about it – and decided then that I was going to be a scientist and find a cure for MS!

I went to university and studied Biomedical Science, where I got to learn more about MS, alongside other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve always been closely involved with the MS Society through my mum, so when this MS Society funded PhD popped up I leapt at the opportunity.

What have you learned during your studies?

Doing a PhD really helps you to grow. I’ve been able to develop my own ideas as a researcher with the support of experienced post-docs and supervisors. And I think I've developed into a more mature and independent scientist as a result.

I've also grown as a public speaker and a teacher. I’ve been able to perfect my presentation skills and had the opportunity to teach Masters and undergraduate students.

On top of this, being able to attend events such as the MS Frontiers conference have helped me to become a clear communicator, and – I hope! – a good representative for the MS Society.

This has been invaluable for my personal development and I’m really happy the MS Society has given me the opportunity to study for my PhD at a world class research institute alongside experts in MS and immunology.