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Searching for a cure

Sarah Rea

NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Fellow


Meeting a boy with cerebral palsy set molecular biologist Sarah Rea on her career path to finding a cure for motor neuron disease. 

Sarah is a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Fellow, currently working as team leader for the ALS, Dementia and PDB functional genomics group within the Laing Neurogenetic Diseases Laboratory in the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

“I left high school without finishing Year 11, so I needed to do my high school education as a mature age student,” Sarah says.

“I went to high school as a way of getting into university because I met a boy with cerebral palsy. It was clear he was a lovely young man, but was trapped in a body that didn’t allow him to communicate."
- Sarah Rea

“I initially wanted to study speech pathology to help kids like him, however I realised speech pathology was not likely to help children like him overly much. I chose to study Molecular Biology and Biomedical Science instead, because I became fascinated by genetics and wanted to learn more so I could help try to cure diseases.”

Sarah now focuses on how specific genetic changes cause motor neuron disease (MND) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

“I became aware of an overlap between MND and FTD genetic factors with those of another disease that my work focuses on – Paget’s disease of bone,” Sarah says.

While completing her PhD with UWA, Sarah was mentored and encouraged through a UWA Collaboration Award and was given the opportunity to travel and present her research in various forums, all the while having two children.

“I think the hardest thing for me was finding a life balance where I wasn’t able to be a perfect mother or a perfect researcher,” Sarah says.

“Being a scientist and having a high-stress career has allowed for a huge amount of personal growth. You never know what you are capable of until you push yourself to the limits.

“My aim is to find a cure for motor neuron disease. I am realistic that this is perhaps an ‘impossible’ goal, but I believe it is one worth pursuing.”

“I would like to help make a difference in the lives of those affected by adding to the knowledge base of underlying disease mechanisms.”

Sarah Rea

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