Sobek Prize Given Physician-scientist for Work in Progressive MS

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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Sobek Prize winner

The 2020 Sobek Research Prize has been given to Alan J. Thompson, MD, a physician scientist with University College London, for his pioneering work in progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), the National MS Society announced.

The prize is jointly awarded by the German National MS Society (DMSG) and the MS Society of Baden-Württemberg (AMSEL).  Totaling €100,000 (about $123,000), it is currently the highest in Europe and possibly worldwide, AMSEL reports, and is given to investigators in recognition of their major contributions to the MS field.

Thompson, a professor and dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences at University College London, has worked to improve ways of treating and diagnosing those with progressive MS forms. He was a pioneer in establishing the typical clinical features of primary progressive MS (PPMS), and played a key role in the implementation of MRI as a diagnostic and prognostic disease tool.

Thompson also contributed to the development of several non-pharmaceutical interventions now in use to ease disease symptoms, including rehabilitation therapies, and with colleagues helped to improve the McDonald diagnostic criteria used by clinicians worldwide to identify the disease. He also contributed to developing measures for mobility, spasticity (stiff muscles), pain, and other disease characteristics.

His more recent research has focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying brain damage in PPMS.

Thompson has been part of multiple scientific boards and committees, and currently is a leading member of the International Progressive MS Alliance. The alliance, a worldwide collaborative supported by 19 MS societies, aims to accelerate research into, the development of treatments for, progressive forms of MS.

“As far as treatments are concerned, we’re really very good at stopping [MS] attacks, we’re very good at stopping relapses … but it is much more difficult to stop or delay progression, to actually target neurodegeneration, and that is partly because we don’t fully understand it,” Thompson said in an interview with AMSEL.

According to Thompson, a main reason for alliance’s establishment was to prod MS research and treatment efforts into progressive disease. Its founding aim was to “bring progressive MS center stage, to raise the profile,” he said. “We wanted to make it the focus for our clinical colleagues and research colleagues.”

Building on that, “we wanted to bring people internationally. You need the best brains in the world, and you need them to come together and to focus [on these goals],” Thompson added.

Progressive MS is no longer thought of as “untreatable,” but current therapies have only a “moderate effect.”

Research, he continued, now needs to “focus on treatments that really target progression, and by that I mean treatments that target repair, remyelination, and treatments that target neuroprotection.

“That has to be the main focus of the Alliance and indeed of the MS community,” he said, concluding that there is today “huge hope for people with progressive MS.”

Thompson was also honored in 2017 with the John Dystel Prize for MS Research, given by the U.S. National MS Society, which also recognizes a scientist for outstanding contributions to the MS field.

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