Dr Daisy Mollison tells us about her MS PhD

Dr Daisy Mollison and an image of a brain scan

July 2019: Dr Daisy Mollison was one of our first Rowling Scholars and has recently completed her PhD focusing on multiple sclerosis.

Our Rowling Scholars Clinical PhD scheme aims to support aspiring top clinical academics working in regenerative neuroscience. A clinical academic is a doctor or other health professional who alongside their medical practice, also pursues academic research. Someone who brings both clinical and academic expertise to research can bridge a gap that sometimes exists between academics and medical professionals. It is part of the purpose of the Anne Rowling Clinic to support and encourage the next generation of research leaders.

Here Daisy tells us about her PhD.

“As a neuroradiologist, I’m often looking at brain scans of people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Many people with MS experience problems with cognitive function, such as poor memory and slowed information processing, but we know that the changes we see on scans are not enough to accurately predict who will have these problems.

In my PhD, I looked at the different ways we can measure the changes on brain scans and how they are associated with cognition. My hope was that my findings might contribute to improving the efficiency of using brain scans in research and potentially improve the use of brain scans as a prognosis tool for people with MS.

There’s no agreed standard way to measure the most commonly seen changes in the brain white matter, so I looked at the advantages of three different approaches. Firstly, drawing round all the abnormal areas by hand is usually thought to be the best method, but I found differences in the results when different people did this or even one person repeated it.

Secondly I tested an alternative fully computerised method, which was adjusted to closely match the results from the hand-drawing. Finally, I developed a new system, involving assigning scores to scans using sets of sample images, and found these scores were closely related to the results of the outlining technique.

Combining information from the scans and other characteristics (e.g. age, gender etc) of the people being tested, I found that cognitive function could be partly predicted using either the computerised measurements or the scoring system. It also looked like the brain might be able to compensate for the damage up to a certain level so that cognitive function isn’t affected when the damage is mild.

I later looked at an advanced imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging. Although this technique showed microscopic disruption to nerve fibres that wasn’t visible on the routine scans, the overall ability to predict cognitive function wasn’t improved.

I’m now hoping to do some more testing of the new scoring system and explore why the brain may sometimes be able to compensate for some of the effects of MS.”

Find out more about the Rowling Scholars Clinical PhD Scheme

Daisy’s Mollison's profile

This article was published on: Tuesday, July 16, 2019