UOW student awarded $70,000 towards MS research

UOW student awarded $70,000 towards MS research

Olivia Wills PhD will examine the role of diet for people living with multiple sclerosis

University of Wollongong (UOW) PhD candidate Olivia Wills has been awarded a $70,000 scholarship by MS Australia to research the inclusion of dietary advice in a brain-healthy lifestyle for people living with multiple sclerosis.

MS Australia is Australia’s national multiple sclerosis (MS) not-for-profit organisation that empowers researchers to identify ways to treat, prevent and cure MS.

Combining treatment with lifestyle management to preserve brain tissue and optimise brain health has been endorsed by the international MS Brain Health initiative. Factors such as cardiovascular fitness, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol use have been prioritised to maximise lifelong brain health for people living with MS.

Ms Wills’ research project will explore the role of diet in a brain-healthy lifestyle for people living with MS and improving understanding of the role of diet in MS disease progression, management and brain health.

“Diet is often overlooked and the role of a dietitian in early treatment plans can often be undervalued,” Ms Wills said.

“There is so much anecdotal evidence out there about MS and diet, but there are a lot of inconsistencies when it comes to the evidence base.

“After being diagnosed many people want to know what to eat – patients often want to pursue any measure they can to take control of their disease. People want to feel like they can take some control at a time of great uncertainty!

“My research is all about how we can support medical professionals to initiate conversations with people in clinical practice to provide informed, evidence based dietary advice to people with MS and supporting frontline clinicians in including diet in treatment plans.”

Ms Wills first became interested in the world of dietetics and nutrition during her training as an elite artistic gymnast. She won seven consecutive State Championships and is a two-time National Champion.

“I spent my childhood in the gym.  I trained for more than 25 hours a week for 15 years and nutrition was a big part of my training. I think that exposure sparked an interest in the importance of the role of food in the body and the science behind it.” 

“And everyone eats - it’s an area of study that is relevant to everyone.”

In the third year of her undergraduate degree Ms Wills was invited to participate in the School of Medical, Indigenous and Health Sciences Dean’s Scholars’ Program where she had the opportunity to work on an MS research project supervised by Yasmin Probst that looked at the associations between dietary intake and magnetic resonance imaging outcomes.

“That was my first real experience with what MS is and what it means to people to be living with the disease. Coming from my background in dietetics, there are so many unknowns in in the whole world of diet and MS and I think I can really make a difference.”

For more information about investigator led research projects funded by MS Australia, visit here.