MS Research Prize Goes to Barcelona Neurologist

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by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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A researcher in Barcelona, Spain, has been chosen to receive the 2022 John Dystel Prize for his work advancing the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The $40,000 prize, given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), will be awarded to Xavier Montalban, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Catalonia (Cemcat) at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital.

He will receive the prize and deliver the Dystel Prize lecture during the AAN 2022 Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, on April 3.

This year’s prize recognizes Montalban’s work in collecting data from people with early symptoms of MS — in a systematic way and over time. The data collected has allowed researchers to understand the natural history of MS, or how it progresses from its first stages.

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Montalban also has led many clinical trials of disease-modifying therapies, including a clinical trial of Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) that resulted in the first approval of a therapy for people with primary progressive MS — a type of MS marked by a steady worsening of symptoms over time from disease onset, without relapses or remissions.

“I am honored and very happy to receive this recognition for my work,” Montalban, who also leads the Neuroimmunology Research Group at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute, said in a press release. “It has been extremely gratifying to contribute to progress in our ability to improve the lives of people living with multiple sclerosis.”

In addition to his work on the natural history of MS, Montalban also led the use of clinical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to predict the long-term outcomes of the disease. His discoveries on the meaning of MRI lesions in specific areas of the brain have helped shape the McDonald Criteria, a set of measures that has helped speed and make the diagnosis of MS more precise.

He and his team also developed criteria to determine how well a person is responding to a disease-modifying therapy to better inform treatment decisions, namely when its time for a person to switch medications.

“Montalban’s contributions to understanding MS, improving its diagnosis, and testing ground-breaking therapies have been incredibly important for people living with multiple sclerosis,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president of research programs at the National MS Society. “For his global leadership and the impacts of his work, he is well deserving of the Dystel Prize.”

Montalban also helped establish Cemcat, the first MS center in Spain, and is the author of a list of book chapters and scientific papers about MS.

“He has worked across disciplines, publishing a wide variety of investigations spanning epidemiology, clinical features of MS, diagnostics, immunology, imaging, digital medicine, and especially therapeutics. By singlehandedly inspiring colleagues and especially trainees, he has transformed Barcelona into a global epicenter for MS care and neuroimmunology,” said Stephen L. Hauser, MD, a former John Dystel Prize winner.

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