UPenn Neurologist Wins Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research

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by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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A neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) has received the 2021 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research for his work in understanding how the immune system causes multiple sclerosis (MS).

The international $100,000 prize, administered by the National MS Society, was awarded to Amit Bar-Or, MD, chief of the MS division at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Melissa and Paul Anderson President’s Distinguished Professor of Neurology.

With over 280 peer-reviewed papers published, Bar-Or’s work may ultimately contribute to better personalized treatments for those with MS.

Bar-Or will deliver his prize lecture on Feb. 25 at the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2022, taking place Feb. 24–26 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“It’s incredibly gratifying that our team’s work has been recognized for novel approaches that we believe should improve prospects for people living with MS now and in the future,” Bar-Or said in an MS Society announcement.

Bar-Or has focused on understanding how immune cells drive the attacks that cause damage to the myelin sheath — the protective substance that covers nerve fibers and helps neurons send signals more efficiently.

His research has delved into the interaction between immune cells and other brain cells, led to the development of a precision neuroimmunology platform that captures different states of immune responses across individuals, and shed light on the biological processes driving pediatric MS.

Bar-Or also developed tools that better measure a person’s immune response to certain targets, which in clinical trial use could to help understand the emerging treatments and improve trial design.

An ultimate goal is to go from the general, one-size-fits-all approach currently seen in clinical trials to more personalized approaches in which treatments are adapted to each patient’s immune profile.

“Dr. Bar-Or is a true thought leader who is applying very sophisticated approaches to translate complex findings and changing the way we think of MS and how we will more precisely treat it in the not-too-distant future,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president of research programs at the National MS Society.

“Like few others, his work is driving toward achieving permanent remission of MS, stopping its progression, and preventing its onset, which is truly visionary,” Bebo added.

Currently, Bar-Or’s team is designing new tools to monitor MS progression from its earliest stages and select the best treatment and timing for each case, as well as determining when best to stop or switch medications.

“Bar-Or is an outstanding clinician-scientist in the MS field, and his scientific, clinical, translational neuroimmunology and leadership contributions place him as one of the most impactful researchers on MS currently and for the foreseeable future,” said V. Wee Yong, PhD, the director of the Alberta MS Network, and who nominated Bar-Or for the Barancik Prize.

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