With an interest multiple sclerosis (MS) before even starting college, Dr. Ellen Mowry has spent her entire research career investigating the disease. Her epidemiological studies led her to indications that vitamin D might be particularly important for people with MS, and she now dedicates her research to the topic — knowledge she will share at the upcoming Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) 2016 Annual Meeting, a gathering of MS researchers and clinicians worldwide.
As an associate professor of Neurology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, she also explores other environment factors that might alter MS risk, or its prognosis, focusing on diet and the microbiome.
She is leading the Vitamin D to Ameliorate Multiple Sclerosis (VIDAMS) study, a multicenter trial sponsored by the National MS Society. The study is investigating whether vitamin D supplementation might reduce the frequency of relapses in patients with relapsing-remitting MS — a topic she recently discussed with fellow scientist Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant in a roundtable discussion organized by CMSC and covered by Multiple Sclerosis News Today.
To make sure that the vitamin D supplements recommended to MS patients are in a position to do good, she also conducted a pilot study analyzing if post-supplementation vitamin levels in the blood differed between patients and controls, or if the vitamin triggered different immune or gene expression changes in patients compared to healthy individuals.
Her talk, “Vitamin D-Research Update and Implications for Clinical Practice,” at the CMSC meeting — taking place in National Harbor, Maryland, on June 1–4 — aims to share with her audience what is now known about vitamin D supplementation and MS.
In an interview with Multiple Sclerosis News Today, she had words of encouragement for MS patients, and hints of the work still ahead. Below is the interview, in a Q&A format:
Q: As a researcher involved in several studies on the role of vitamin D and the course of MS, where do we stand now? Is there an evident correlation between vitamin D levels and MS? If so, should vitamin D supplementation be recommended as a therapeutic for MS patients?
Dr. Mowry: We have known that low vitamin D levels appear to be linked with increased risk of MS for about 10 years now. Recent evidence has raised the question about whether this is actually a vitamin D effect, or if it may be that it’s ultraviolet light from the sun that is important, and that perhaps vitamin D levels are just a marker of ultraviolet light exposures. Another new study showed that very low vitamin D levels of a mother during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of MS in the offspring, raising the question of when in a person’s life it may be important to keep up vitamin D levels, if this does in fact reduce MS risk.
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