Neurologist wins at NSW Premier's Prizes

Leading research into a rare autoimmune condition has earned Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan a prestigious NSW Premier's Prize for her role in changing the outcomes for those living with the condition.

Dr Ramanathan, Head of the Translational Neuroimmunology Research Group at the Kids Neuroscience Centre and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, has led the field in defining an autoimmune brain disorder known as myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibody-associated disease (MOGAD).  

Patients presenting with inflammation of the optic nerve causing visual loss, inflammation of the spinal cord causing paralysis, or inflammation of the brain, are often diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis (MS). However, it was not until 2014 that it was known that a subgroup of these patients actually do not have MS, but instead have a distinct condition now referred to as MOGAD.

This distinction is critical as treatment pathways and prognosis are different for MOGAD compared to MS.

Dr Ramanathan's work in defining MOGAD has been pivotal in establishing a greater understanding of the condition, and helping to improve treatments, outcomes, and the lives of those affected. 

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the field, Dr Ramanathan has been awarded an NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering – winning the category Early Career Researcher of the Year (Biological Sciences). 

The Prizes reward the cutting-edge work of leading researchers and educators that has generated economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for the state. 

“It is an honour to receive this award as recognition of our team’s work in autoimmune neurology,” Dr Ramanathan said. 

“Our goal is to enhance our understanding of underlying disease mechanisms in order to improve diagnosis and develop treatment guidelines for patients who risk significant disability.”  

Dr Ramanathan’s work has contributed to some of the earliest clinical and radiological hallmarks of MOGAD, and have helped identify the role of MOG antibodies as an essential biomarker to diagnose a treatable cause of blindness and paralysis.

MOG antibody testing is now part of routine clinical diagnostics in patients with autoimmune brain conditions, facilitating the approval of specific immune treatments for Australian patients through Medicare. 

In 2013, Dr Ramanathan established and has since been the lead investigator of the Australasian and New Zealand MOGAD Study Group. This has now become one of the largest international cohorts for this condition, with her team evaluating more than 700 patients from 45 centres across Australasia.

Furthermore, Dr Ramanathan is the only Australian neurologist on a global expert panel that spans 11 countries, developing the first international diagnostic criteria for MOGAD.    

Congratulations to Dr Ramanathan on this outstanding and well-earned achievement. 

Photography: University of Sydney