Researcher Will Use Award to Find Biomarkers of RIS in Children

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by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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This year’s Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Award, funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, has gone to a Yale University researcher who is searching for biomarkers of radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS) in children.

RIS occurs when imaging findings on MRI scans are similar to those seen in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) — yet no symptoms are present.

The award recipient is Naila Makhani, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics (neurology) and the director of the Pediatric MS Program at Yale School of Medicine. The award, totaling about $600,000, will provide Makhani salary and grant support for a period of five years, starting this July.

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RIS was described initially in 2009 in adults who were found to be at higher risk of experiencing a neurological event that is consistent with a diagnosis of MS. More recent research has come to show that children can develop RIS, and Makhani’s earlier work discovered that these children also have a high risk of developing MS later in life.

“RIS is diagnosed after magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain that the patient has sought for reasons other than suspected multiple sclerosis — for instance, for evaluation of head trauma or headache. However, unexpectedly, or incidentally, the patient’s MRI shows the typical findings that we see in multiple sclerosis, even in the absence of any typical clinical symptoms,” Makhani said, cited in a university press release.

With the new award, Makhani aims to identify biomarkers that can serve to identify children with RIS, who have the greatest risk for MS. This is important as it may allow researchers to find ways to prevent the development of MS in those children.

The diagnosis of MS involves a complete medical history and a neurological exam. An imaging test, usually an MRI exam, also may be taken, which can detect lesions that result from damage of the myelin sheath — the fatty substance that wraps around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. In turn, the diagnosis of RIS often occurs during workups for another unrelated condition.

The award is named after Harry Weaver, PhD, the society’s director of research from 1966 to 1977, who throughout his career, “continued to encourage young investigators to enter and pursue MS research, and to broaden our understanding of basic and clinical aspects of MS,” the award webpage states.

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