National MS Society Funds 13 New Research Projects

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by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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The National MS Society has announced it is funding 13 new research projects that seek to better understand the risk factors involved in multiple sclerosis (MS) development and progression.

The funding — nearly $7 million in total — also will go to “rescue” 22 MS-related research projects that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for more time and resources to complete those projects.

The newly funded projects are in line with the society’s Pathways to Cures Roadmap, which aims to stop disease progression, restore functions that have been lost, and end the disease by preventing more cases from developing. Most (11 of 13) are focused on this third goal, by identifying factors that help predict the risk of MS or detect the condition years before its symptoms are evident.

“We will do whatever it takes to identify MS before it takes hold so people can get on a treatment as early as possible to minimize disability caused by MS,” Cyndi Zagieboylo, president and CEO of the National MS Society, said in a press release.

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“This targeted research initiative on early detection, released in collaboration with the MS Society of Canada, is key to being able to both stop the disease at its earliest stages, before it injures the nervous system, and to prevent its onset,” according to an announcement from the society.

Ruth Dobson, PhD, of Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom, is running analyses of medical records to look for factors predictive of MS onset. Helen Tremlett, PhD, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, is conducting a similar analysis using data from Canada and Sweden. Tremlett’s project is co-funded by the MS Society of Canada.

Kassandra L. Munger, at Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts,  will analyze data from the Nurses Health studies to try to identify factors indicative of prodromal MS, which is when a person has some subtle signs of the disease before diagnosis, up to 15 years before symptoms appear.

A project led by Daniel Hawiger, MD, PhD, of Saint Louis University in Missouri, is looking for changes in immune cells called T-cells that are predictive of MS, while another effort led by Marwa Kaisey, MD, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California, is looking for blood markers that are predictive of MS.

Scientists at the University of Colorado Denver, led by Teri Schreiner, MD, also are looking for markers that could predict the risk of MS. Their project focuses on analyzing close biological relatives of MS patients, who are about five times more likely than the general population to develop MS.

Another project, led by Jorge Oksenberg, PhD of the University of California  San Francisco, aims to identify genetic risk factors of MS. Meanwhile, Tomas Olsson, MD, PhD, at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, is conducting an analysis of medical records and studies to identify lifestyle and sociodemographic factors linked with MS risk.

A project led by Lisa Ann Gerdes, MD, at the University Hospital LMU Munich in Germany, is looking at gut bacteria in twins with and without MS, with the goal of identifying bacteria that may contribute to the disease’s development. Another project, spearheaded by Michael Wilson, MD, at the University of California San Francisco, is testing whether prior viral infections are associated with increased MS risk.

Leigh Charvet, PhD, of New York University Langone Medical Center, is leading a project analyzing whether measures of cognition (thinking speed) can be used to predict future disability in MS.

Darin Okuda, MD, at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is seeking to identify biological markers that predict the risk of conversion from radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS) to true MS. RIS is a condition in which a person has MS-like brain lesions visible on brain scans, but no obvious symptoms of MS.

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