We are thrilled to announce that as of 1 July Associate Professor Tracey Weiland will be taking on the role of Head of the Neuroepidemiology Unit (NEU) at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health. Tracey will be taking over from Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) founder Professor George Jelinek who has been the Head of the NEU since it was established in 2015.
Tracey is currently the Principal Research Fellow of the unit and has made an invaluable contribution to researching the role of lifestyle in MS. You may recognize Tracey’s name from her ongoing role in the NEU’s HOLISM research and her series of articles entitled From the Professor’s Desk.
We recently interviewed Tracey to ask her some questions about herself, her work and her new role as the Head of the NEU.
I was always fascinated by people, behavior and wellbeing so undertook a undergraduate degree in Behavioural Science with honors.
I was fortunate enough to attend La Trobe University which had a very strong behavioral neuroscience unit. There I became interested in neuroimmunology – how the nervous system and the immune system function together.
I received a scholarship to undertake a PhD at La Trobe under the supervision of Dr Stephen Kent and Dr Nicholas Voudouris. I studied how the immune system communicates to the brain during infection, with a particular focus on neurochemical intermediaries.
While completing my PhD I also fulfilled the requirements for the Master of Health Psychology. It was an enormous study load but I loved every bit of it.
I later did a bit of additional study enabling me to work as a clinical psychologist which I currently do in private practice two days a week.
I first met George while working at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne in 2007. In those days we were researching in the broad area of emergency medicine – you might recall that George originally trained as an emergency physician.
Although I was at St. Vincent’s for 12 years, our research in MS grew from small seeds. George had collected data from participants attending OMS retreats and we co-supervised a student to analyze and write up the data.
Before we knew it we were hosting Naresh Pereira, a (then) medical undergraduate who volunteered with our team to develop what was to become HOLISM (Health Outcomes and Lifestyle In a Sample of people with MS), a longitudinal survey.
We received philanthropic funding to continue this longitudinal study in the setting of the School of Population and Global Health, the University of Melbourne… and the Neuroepidemiology Unit was born.
I began working at the NEU in October 2015, a few months after it was established. Initially I worked once a fortnight, eventually increasing to three days a week.
It was a no brainer to re-unite with the team, many of whom I had previously work with at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. We had already begun to develop an interesting body of research. I was keen to further this to be part of the University of Melbourne.
Being a clinician, the interest in health and well-being comes with the territory. I hadn’t really thought much about MS though until I met George.
His story was so compelling and the evidence really stacks up. As a person who uses a wheelchair (I have muscular dystrophy) it was really important to me.
If people could optimize their wellbeing and possibly prevent or minimize disability I wanted to be part of that, part of a team that shows them the way and the evidence behind it.
Super excited! Clearly I have some big shoes to fill. I think I have a wonderful team and it is terrific to know that George will continue to be an integral part of that team.
Our 5 year HOLISM data are in and are now under analysis.
We are building new collaborations and connections with neurologists and are hoping to develop randomized controlled trials examining the role of lifestyle in MS. These pursuits take a while to develop but there are exciting times ahead.
The OMS charity is such an important part of getting the message out there about how to optimize health and wellbeing for people living with MS. It will be wonderful to see how we can work together.
We also spoke to George and asked how he felt about stepping down:
“I will be reducing my time commitment, but remain as committed as I ever was to further developing a solid evidence base about the critical role of lifestyle factors in MS development and progression. I see a great future for the NEU under Tracey’s leadership. She is not only a highly skilled researcher, but an extremely well organized leader who has demonstrated over a distinguished career a real gift for mentoring, supervising and bringing the best out of young researchers. Tracey is just such a great person to work with, and I count my blessings that I ran into her at a pivotal moment in my career and learnt from her many of the skills that have enabled us to develop such a strong research agenda in MS.”
Articles written by Tracey: