The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $1.83 million grant to a Kessler Foundation researcher leading a clinical trial to test if a month-long cognitive training program can improve learning and memory in adults with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of the Centers for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience and Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, received the prize for her ongoing study “Evaluation of a Theory-Driven Manualized Approach to Improving New Learning and Memory in MS (STEM)“.
Cognitive deficits, such as difficulty with learning and remembering information, impact everyday life for many with MS. Patients can struggle to recall things such as planned tasks, an address, or a list of items. They may also have trouble learning and remembering new tasks.
However, cognitive rehabilitation programs are rarely given to these people because little scientific evidence supports their effectiveness.
Chiaravalloti and her team are conducting a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial in MS patients, regardless of disease type, with evident learning and memory problems.
The study will investigate the effectiveness of a memory enhancement technique developed by the team, to see how well this method can help to improve patients’ memory and everyday life.
“Our study examines the efficacy of strategy-based training to enhance memory, or STEM,” Chiaravalloti said in a press release.
Strategy-based training approaches usually focus on learning task-specific procedures and strategies to handle the steps of prospective memory, such as when to remember or how to remember.
“The 8-session protocol encompasses the three strategies we have determined to have the greatest empirical evidence for treating impaired learning and memory: self-generation, spaced learning, and self-testing,” Chiaravalloti said.
Participants will be randomly assigned to either eight STEM sessions or eight sessions of placebo memory exercises for four weeks.
STEM’s effectiveness will be measured using three methods: assessment of global functioning, which examines everyday actions and quality of life; a neuropsychological evaluation to assess cognitive performance; and neuroimaging to provide a ‘window into the mind’ and investigate which brain areas become active when individuals perform STEM.
“Our main goal is to develop a treatment that improves how individuals function at home, in the workplace, and in their communities,” Chiaravalloti said.
Patients will also be followed for six months to assess STEM’s longer term benefits on everyday functioning and neuropsychological performance.
“We will also evaluate the impact of booster sessions in maintaining the treatment effect over time. We anticipate that this rigorous protocol will yield Class 1 evidence for the efficacy of STEM treatment for the cognitive impairments of multiple sclerosis,” Chiaravalloti concluded.