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Research in Action

November 2017
Latest research news and updates from the MS Society of Canada

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Research Profile


Dr. Katharine Harding
Dr. Katharine Harding, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of British Columbia, developed a particular interest in immunology and neuroscience during her academic career. The perfect bridge to her two interests was working in the field of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As a junior doctor in the UK, Katharine worked in neurology where she cared for MS patients and helped with clinical trials. “This experience on the background of my previous basic science training made me want to get involved in MS research,” says Katharine.

Katharine was awarded the postdoctoral fellowship from the MS Society of Canada on a project titled “Is socio-economic status associated with disability progression in MS? A multi-national study.” While there is evidence supporting socio-economic status and risk of developing MS, Katherine’s project aims to understand whether socio-economic status is also associated with progression of disability in MS. The overall aim of this study is to better understand the factors that contribute to the progression of disability in MS. This is very important for two reasons: (1) to set up and maintain appropriate clinical services for the local population, and (2) to have a clear description of the natural history of MS in order to establish a baseline for future research studies.

Some might find working in a lab tedious but for Katharine it is a great way to tackle a problem. “I enjoy the challenge of taking a problem, working out a solution, and then applying it to real-life clinical data.” It’s also a chance for Katharine to work with fellow researchers. “I really enjoy the interactions with other researchers everyone has their own expertise and perspectives and the collaborations in research allow for productivity and generation of new ideas.”

Research Events and Funding Opportunities

European Charcot Foundation hosts 25th Annual Meeting in Italy

From Thursday November 30 — Saturday December 2, the European Charcot Foundation will host their 25th Annual Meeting in Baveno, Italy. Themed “25 Years of Fundamental Milestones in MS”, the conference promises interesting debates amongst researchers and clinicians, and will provide an interactive learning experience on topics ranging from causes of the disease to translating science into patient management. For more information visit the Annual Meeting website.

MS researchers and clinicians gear up for scientific conference

Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) will welcome researchers, clinicians, and trainees from around the world to San Diego, California for ACTRIMS Forum 2018. The scientific conference will take place February 1-3, and will feature presentations from leading MS experts on topics including new therapeutic targets, underlying mechanisms of disease, neuroinflammation, and MS clinical trials. For more information on this forum meeting, visit the ACTRIMS FORUM 2018 website.

Cognition Research and Strategies webinar

The MS Society of Canada, in partnership with National MS Society and Can Do MS, is hosting a webinar and telelearning series on cognition research featuring speakers Dr. Abbey Hughes (Assistant Professor, John’s Hopkins Medical School) and Pamela A. Miller (Occupational Therapist, Columbia University Medical Center). Join the webinar on December 12 (8:00-9:15pm EST) to hear Dr. Abbey Hughes and Pamela Miller discuss major questions on cognition and MS including what is the current research in this area, whom to turn to for help, and strategies to help manage cognitive difficulties. Visit the event registration page to register for the webinar.



Research Spotlight

Canadian Study measures persistence to DMTs in MS


It has been 20 years since disease-modifying drugs became available for MS. How are they being used?

MS Society funded researchers, Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie from the University of Manitoba and Dr. Charity Evans from the University of Saskatchewan published an article in Patient Preference and Adherence evaluating the use of first-line DMTs (beta-interferon-1b, beta-interferon-1a, and glatiramer acetate) over time, to identify factors that may contribute to staying with or stopping DMT use. Check out what the team discovers here.

MS Society funded study explores the effects of cannabis on cognition in men and women with MS

With 20% of individuals with MS using cannabis (also known as marijuana) to help them manage symptoms such as pain, researchers have set out to discover if the extensive use of cannabis has adverse effects. A paper published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal-Experimental, Translation, Clinical , and co-authored by MS Society funded researcher and neuropsychiatrist Dr. Anthony Feinstein from the University of Toronto, evaluates if there is an interaction between gender and cannabis in terms of cognitive impairment for individuals living with MS. Check out what the team discovers here.

To read more about this study and other research, visit the Latest MS Research News on the MS Society website.

MS Society Funded Research


Dr. Alexandre Prat
This month we are featuring two projects led by Dr. Alexandre Prat, a Principal Scientist, Director of Neuroimmunology Research Laboratory and Physician at Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal. In addition to being a world-renowned researcher in MS, Dr. Prat holds the Canada Research Chair in MS, and has been inducted to Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a pre-eminent national academy with distinguished scholars, artist and scientists in the country. Dr. Prat’s research interests lie in areas of neuroimmunology and the blood-brain barrier and their relation to MS.

Dr. Prat was awarded two operating grants in the 2015-2016 Annual Competition (both over $400,000) to carry out projects on the blood brain barrier (BBB) and MS. For information on BBB, check out our “Did you know?” section below. Dr. Alexandre Prat and his team previously identified a potential protein that is used by aggressive immune cells to by-pass the barrier: a molecule called DICAM. In one project, Dr. Prat’s team will explore which cells of the immune system express DICAM, and how these cells use DICAM to cross the blood-brain barrier. The team will also test whether there is any benefit to manipulating DICAM in mice with an MS-like disorder. The researchers’ goal is the eventual development of DICAM-targeting drugs that limit lesion formation in MS. In the second project, Dr. Alexander Prat’s laboratory will explore how three molecules produced by the blood-brain barrier and supporting cells called astrocytes, help form a tight and impermeable blood brain barrier. The overreaching goal of the Prat lab is to develop novel pharmacological agents that will limit MS lesion formation through targeting the BBB.

Did You Know?

The blood brain barrier (BBB) is a network of cells (called endothelial cells) that line the vessels in the brain. These cells are so tightly connected that they prevent harmful substances such as bacteria and toxins from entering brain and spinal cord (collectively called the central nervous system). In MS, the BBB is compromised and becomes leaky, allowing white blood cells from the immune system to pass through the barrier and enter the CNS. The white blood cells then attack myelin (the coating around the nerve cells in the CNS) which results in inflammation and lesions. Hence, research such as the work highlighted above by Dr. Alexandre Prat, is examining what causes the BBB to loosen and ways to prevent this from happening.

Get Involved in a Research Study

Physiotherapist-guided home exercise in moderate to severe Multiple Sclerosis. Physical activity is a crucial component to wellness and is associated with multiple health benefits. Persons with MS may find it challenging to participate in regular physical activity or exercise, which is activity done to improve health and/or fitness. This research will test an innovative web-based intervention to help persons with moderate-to-severe disability manage their condition through a maintenance exercise program with specialized physiotherapist guidance and support.

The study will examine adherence to the web-based physiotherapy program compared to usual physiotherapy care. 45 people with MS will be recruited for the study and randomly assigned to the web group or usual care group. Participants in the web group will receive supported and individualized web-based physiotherapy whereas Participants in the usual care group will receive a written exercise program. Regular participation (adherence) in the exercise programs will be evaluated in both groups over six months. The research will also examine participant satisfaction with the programs, safety, MS symptoms, and physical function. A web-based approach may be widely accessible to persons with MS in their own homes and could support long-term participation in physical activity important to wellness. For more information please visit the study page on the MS Research Portal.

In Other MS News...

Interested in a research topic or event that was not covered? Submit your feedback to msresearchgrants@mssociety.ca.

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