National MS Society Invests $8.7M in Research, Clinical Trial Training

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by Marta Figueiredo, PhD |

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The National Multiple Sclerosis Society invested more than $8.7 million over the summer to support 29 new training fellowships, early career research awards, and other initiatives aiming to advance multiple sclerosis (MS) research and care.

Awarded research projects align with the society’s Pathways to Cures Roadmap: stopping disease activity and progression, restoring function that has been lost by reversing damage and symptoms, and ending the disease by preventing new cases.

‘Stopping MS activity’

A total of 15 awarded projects concern work that may help to stop MS activity and progression.

Yale University scientists will explore mechanisms that lead to myelin loss, while Northwestern University researchers will use mouse disease models to evaluate how well small chemical compounds might protect myelin-producing cells from damage and death, thereby promoting myelin repair.

Of note, myelin is the fatty protective sheath around nerve fibers that is progressively lost in MS.

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Clinical Trials 101

Researchers at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) will lead two awarded projects exploring why some neurons are more susceptible to damage in MS and evaluating the effects of targeting fibrinogen — a blood clotting factor previously shown to work as a myelin-repair blocker.

Two other projects, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cambridge, in the U.K., will evaluate the therapeutic potential of modulating the activity of specific molecules in non-neuronal cells shown to be involved in MS and disease progression.

Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, want to identify new potential targets on immune B-cells to optimize B-cell-targeting MS therapies. (B-cells, a type of immune cell, are involved in the abnormal immune attacks against myelin.)

Another project, led by Liwei Wang, PhD, of the New York University Langone Medical Center, aims to identify ion protein channels controlling immune cell function, and new potential therapeutic targets in MS.

Pavan Bhargava, MD, with Johns Hopkins University, will lead work evaluating whether byproducts of energy processes influence MS risk and progression, while two distinct projects by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Southern California will analyze clinical and imaging data to better understand brain damage, and discover new predictive factors of disease progression.

Two separate projects led by researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York, will explore the use of new or advanced MRI technology to better determine the benefits of MS therapies and identify biomarkers that predict a patient’s disease course.

Blake Dewey, with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, will lead a project testing whether spinal cord MRI measures can be used to predict a transition to progressive MS, while researchers at Columbia will assess whether and how brain lesion location links to MS symptoms and outcomes.

‘Restoring function’

Four funded projects are expected to help find pathways to restore function in MS patients.

One project, led by Katrina Adams, PhD, with Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., will explore the role of neural stem cells in the generation of myelin-producing cells and myelin repair in two mouse models of MS. Neural stem cells are able to give rise to several types of cells in the nervous system.

Elizabeth Gromisch, PhD, with Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital in Connecticut, will lead work to develop a fatigue self-management telehealth program available through a mobile application, and test its effectiveness at easing MS-related fatigue in a clinical trial.

An awarded project led by Valerie Block, at UCSF, aims to assemble a remote toolkit to monitor, test, predict, and eventually treat bladder dysfunction in MS patients in the home.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, and the Cleveland Clinic will implement a new program to provide nurse scientists with advanced training and tools to focus their research on improving MS-specific rehabilitation.

‘Ending MS’

A project led by Ashley Beecham, PhD, at the University of Miami, is included in the Society’s ‘ending the disease pathway.’ Beecham and her team will work to identify genetic risk factors of MS in Black and Hispanic/Latinx people, and assess how such variants associate with MS outcomes.

Other investments

The National MS Society also awarded Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellowships to six physicians, providing up to three years of training for the design, implementation, and data analysis of MS clinical trials.

Nine physicians specialized in neurology or in physical medicine and rehabilitation were granted Clinical Care Fellowships, which provide a year of post-residency training with mentors to improve access to quality care for people living with MS.

The society also continued to lead and support efforts of the International Progressive MS Alliance, which awarded more than €1.4 million (nearly $1.7 million) in May to 19 research projects focused on identifying new treatment targets and approaches for progressive MS.

A total of $300,000 went to eSupport Health in April through the society’s Fast Forward Program. The investment will be used to fund a clinical trial, called SUNRISE, evaluating the benefits of eSupport, or face-to-face online support groups, delivered to Black and Latinx people with MS — two patient groups historically underrepresented in research studies and inadequately treated for mental health.

Earlier this year, the society joined with the diabetes-focused JDRF and the Lupus Research Alliance to fund eight research projects into underlying mechanisms that might be common to at least two of these three autoimmune diseases: MS, type 1 diabetes, and lupus.

A complete list of funded projects, training fellowships, and initiatives can be found here.

New funding decisions relating to research proposals focused on early MS detection will soon be announced, the society noted, and additional opportunities for research support will open over the upcoming months to further advance its Pathways to Cures Roadmap.

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