Get involved > MND blog > December 2019 > Meet the 2020 Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize winner: Dr Shyuan Ngo

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Meet the 2020 Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize winner: Dr Shyuan Ngo

"I have met so many people who have lived, or are living, the most incredible lives that have been built off strong core values; trust, resilience, honesty, humility. Life is short. Life is tough. People create change, and that person can be anyone.​"

Dr Shyuan Ngo, from the University of Queensland, is the MNDRA 2020 Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize winner. The $250,000 grant awards an 'outstanding mid-career researcher with an innovative project to advance the understanding of MND with a clear potential for effective treatments'.

We chat with Shyuan about why she chose MND research and how she hopes to one day find a cure for MND.

How long have you been working on motor neurone disease (MND) research?
I have been working in the field of MND since 2009. So, I’m into my tenth year now. It’s been a really great 10 years – I would not trade it for anything.

What attracted you to MND research?
When I finished my PhD in 2009, I was looking to move into an area of research that would give me more of an opportunity to be at the translational interface – bridging the clinic with the lab.

I interviewed with two neurologists at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (Prof Pamela McCombe and A/Prof Robert Henderson), and their passion and dedication towards helping people with MND was what really inspired me to take up my research career in MND.

What have been some of the major findings and other impacts from your previous research?
The most major finding from my research thus far is related to the work we do in the clinic. Our clinical research was built off findings in the lab, and what we found in the clinic has now further informed the work we are currently doing in the lab.

In 2018, we published our data to show that people with MND whose bodies use more energy than what is expected have a faster rate of disease progression and increased risk for worse prognosis. This work has really set the foundation for our current research that is looking to identify new, or to repurpose older compounds, that can tweak how energy is used in MND.

Being awarded the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize is a wonderful achievement. The prize can help researchers advance the understanding of classical forms of MND, with potential for effective treatments. What do you hope to discover from your research?
In MND, the TDP-43 protein forms clumps inside neurons. We know that these clumps of TDP-43 are toxic to the cell, but we are yet to identify how the protein clumps cause the death of neurons.

In our Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize funded research, we will use neurons made from human skin cells to study whether TDP-43 interacts with mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) to cause a breakdown in the network of powerhouses, and if this then causes a defect in how energy is generated to keep cells alive and functioning. Through this research, we aim to identify a key cause for the death of neurons in MND – this is a critical step towards developing treatments.

What do you think will be most challenging about your research?
The most challenging thing about my research is time. Research does take time and sometimes it is hard for me because I know that time is not necessarily something that everyone has.

But, with funding from MNDRA, and particularly the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize, I can expand our team and bring another bright young scientist into the mix. The more people we have working in the fight against MND, the faster we will be able to find the cause and cure.


Are there things you’re looking forward to as part of your research?
The project that we are working on now for the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Prize is an exciting area of research that is beginning to take off globally. I am looking forward to contributing fundamental knowledge that will help increase our understanding of the potential causes of MND.

In the grander scheme of my team’s research, I look forward to continuing to push forward with research that is built on a circular model, where what we learn in the clinic is used to inform our research in the lab, and vice versa.

So many dedicated MND researchers form strong and long lasting connections with others in the MND community. Are there things you’ve learned from others on a personal level from your work?
There are so many things that I have learnt from others on a personal level that have played a part in shaping who I am as a person, and in highlighting to me what it is I want to achieve in my life.

I have met so many people who have lived, or are living, the most incredible lives that have been built off strong core values; trust, resilience, honesty, humility. Life is short. Life is tough. People create change, and that person can be anyone.

How do you like to spend your time when not working on MND research?
My biggest hobby outside of MND research is baking. I grew up in the Chinese restaurants that my mum used to run, so food and feeding people is very important to me. I like to bake all sort of things and to give it all away so that people can experience food and be happy. 

In five years’ time, what do you hope your research has achieved?
I hope to have helped the world get one step closer to understanding the cause for MND, and to finding the cure for MND. Part of this would be ensuring that people living with MND are involved in any research that they want to be a part of. 

What does a world without MND look like and mean to you?
To me, a world without MND would be a great place to be. A place and time where the future is not hazy and full of unknowns, and where family and friends can speak about tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrows without even having to think of MND.

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