Who’s Who at NZMSRT: Neil Woodham’s

May 5, 2019

We recently took the opportunity to find out a bit more about one of our original Trustees and his thoughts on the future of MS Research in New Zealand.

Neil is an independent health management consultant who has had an extensive career in health management as a senior manager or consultant to government, DHBs, primary care and community providers.

As well as being a Trustee for NZMSRT, he is also Vice President of MS New Zealand, President of Multiple Sclerosis Auckland and North Shore and a Trustee of the MS Auckland Region Trust.

Why did you choose to become involved with NZMSRT?
In my role as a Committee Member of MSNZ in 2004, I was able to arrange funding from the Health Research Council for the MS Prevalence Study. This study convinced me that NZ is capable of producing world class MS research. I also felt strongly that existing research funders did not have as much interest in funding MS research as members of the various MS organisations in NZ. In 2015 I was aware that both MSNZ and MS Auckland had substantial funds for MS research but without the structure or capacity to manage these and utilise them effectively. I was able to convince both organisations to pool their resources and to attract a group of trustees who would focus on funding MS research in NZ.

What inspired/motivated you?
My previous involvement in health management saw the vital link between good clinical services and access to funding for health research. I regard access to funds for MS research as fundamental to NZ being able to attract and retain highly qualified and motivated neurologists and nurses who want to specialise in MS. I was also aware that there were several researchers who were doing excellent work in conjunction with overseas research centres. In addition, my own involvement with MS meant that I was aware the people with MS are always interested in learning about the latest research and I believed would support a stand-alone research trust with funding and bequests.

What future challenges and opportunities do you foresee in the world of MS and research?
There is an enormous amount of MS research taking place worldwide at the present time. On a whole range of topics from what causes MS, to lifestyle and other changes, clinical trials, stem cell treatments etc. These create great opportunities to get New Zealand involved. We do have some advantages. We are a small country with most if not all people with MS able to be identified. Our MS population clearly demonstrates the latitudinal gradient of the incidence of MS. This means you are three times more likely to get MS if you live in Southland than if you live in Northland. If we understood why this is the case, then better treatments or a cure might be possible.

Are there any current developments in MS Research that you think will be ground breaking and why?
I think the recent developments of drugs for primary progressive and secondary progress MS marks a major breakthrough for many people who up until now have had no access drug treatment. I see the pace of these developments increasing so that in the future we will be able offer real hope for these people.

How do you think NZ could make its mark on MS Research?
While NZ is a small country, we have already contributed a number of world renown MS researchers. With proper funding and the will NZ can continue to contribute in this way.

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