National MS Society Invests $16M in Disease Research, Physician Training
This latest series of investments, made over the spring, raised to $65 million total global research funding by the society.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has closed laboratories and placed clinical trials on pause around the world, the organization asserts that “MS doesn’t stop, and neither will the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.”
“We’re still here and committed to accelerating pathways to cures aimed at stopping MS, restoring function that has been lost, and ending the disease forever,” it stated in a website news release.
Projects receiving support include studies into understanding why some people get MS and others don’t, repairing the nerve-insulating myelin sheath that is damaged and destroyed by MS, assessing the influence of diet and gut bacteria on MS-related immune activity, and evaluating a rehabilitation program for people with walking problems and non-invasive brain stimulation for those with cognitive difficulties.
Despite considerable progress in identifying key biological pathways that contribute to the disease risk and progression, its underlying causes are still not certain.
Examples of funded projects focused on finding the cause of MS include a large-scale study of the genetic origins of childhood MS, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. Another grant will fund an in-depth investigation into a rare gene mutation that may cause the loss of myelin and therefore MS development. This study is being developed at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore.
Other research groups looking into ways of repairing myelin will also be funded. Myelin repair would mean stopping disease progression by preventing neurodegeneration, and raise the possibility of reversing the damage done and restoring lost function.
In one such project, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco will test a molecule, called selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM), that promotes myelin repair in lab animals and has shown a promising safety profile. The group will test SERM in 50 women with MS both in clinical and at-home settings.
In addition to research projects, the National MS Society funds several individual fellowship programs to support promising researchers and physicians.
The Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellowship Program, named in honor of its founder, provides five promising clinicians with up to three years of training into the design, conduct, and analysis of clinical trials for MS.
The society also awarded six medical doctors with Clinical Care Fellowships. These fellowships provide a year of post-residency training with experienced mentors to improve access to quality care and solutions for those living with MS.
Finally, three Institutional Clinical Training Awards were given. This award provides five years of funding to mentors and institutions for training board-certified or eligible neurologists and physiatrists in MS specialist care. The goal is to cultivate the skills and knowledge needed to deliver the highest quality of care possible.
A complete list of funded projects can be found here.
The National MS Society is also involved in a “worldwide research effort to improve coronavirus outcomes in people with MS.” The goal is to collect information about the impact and outcomes of COVID-19 infection in people with MS and related disorders.
The iConquerMS online portal is part of this initiative, and via a survey people with MS can share their experiences in coping with the pandemic. Results will be shared with an international initiative gathering data from healthcare providers and people with MS worldwide.