Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan, a neurologist specialising in neuroimmunology, has won the Early Career Researcher of the Year (Biological Sciences) at the 2022 NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering.
Dr Ramanathan has been recognised for her work defining myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibody-associated disease (MOGAD), a treatable autoimmune brain disorder, which was established as separate to multiple sclerosis through her work at the University of Sydney.
Dr Ramanathan is a Neurology Staff Specialist at Concord Hospital and a Senior Research Fellow at the Sydney Medical School of the University of Sydney. She specialises in diagnosing and treating demyelinating disorders with the Brain Autoimmunity Group.
Her subspecialty focus includes antibody-mediated neurological disorders such as demyelination inclusive of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders, autoimmune encephalitis, autoimmune muscle disease, and inflammatory neuropathies; as well as multiple sclerosis.
Dr Ramanathan’s father is an academic and the inspiration behind her career choice. She used to sneak into the back of the lecture theatres and watch her father interact with researchers. Further, she was impressed by all the journal articles and books that he authored.
In an interview with Kids Neuroscience Centre, Dr Ramanathan said:
“I was given the book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat” by Oliver Sacks when I was about 11 or 12. I was fascinated, read all of his other books, and decided I wanted to become a neurologist!”
Dr Ramanathan’s work has led to MOG antibody testing becoming part of routine clinical diagnostics in patients with autoimmune brain conditions, enabled the approval of specific immune treatments now available to Australian patients through Medicare, and developed treatment strategies that are being adopted internationally.
Dr Ramanathan added in that interview that she loves her work and research:
“I love working in neuroimmunology because the patients affected are often fairly disabled by their presentations, but with accurate and early diagnosis and appropriate treatment you can improve their outcomes and allow them to return in many cases, to a normal life. This is a huge motivator for me to pursue translational research in this field.”
She currently sits on an expert panel that spans 11 countries and is also the lead investigator for the Australian and New Zealand MOGAD Study Group, evaluating 700 patients from 45 centres in Australasia.
In 2017, she was awarded a prestigious and highly competitive Early Career Researcher overseas fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council. Dr Ramanathan spent four months of her two-year stay at Oxford University working with the Oxford Autoimmune Neuroimmunology Group.
Dr Ramanathan said that she tries to prioritise her time between family and research:
“My biggest support is my husband, who is a true partner in all that we do, encourages me to pursue my goals, and helps me make things happen.”
This year, in total, ten prizes are allocated to leading researchers each year for creating economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for NSW. Dr Ramanathan will receive a prize of $5000.