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Research in Action

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

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Research Profile


Jennifer McDonnell
Having finished her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Carleton University, Jennifer McDonnell joined the MS Society of Canada (MSSC) in the Programs and Services Department 17 years ago. She is now Curator, Information for the MS Society’s Knowledge Network where she ensures that our MS Navigators are equipped with the most up-to-date and accurate information related to MS. Jennifer has had the opportunity to work for several contract positions with affiliated organizations such as the MS International Federation (London, UK) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, however, she always found her way back to the MS Society.

After 17 years at the MSSC, Jennifer has had many accomplishments and made notable contributions to projects that have had a great impact for all those involved. One is the ‘National Education Series’, which is a series of education events delivered across the country. Another notable contribution is having the opportunity to work alongside former MSSC medical advisor, Dr. Paul O’Connor, in editing and publishing the fifth edition (2014) of his book, Multiple Sclerosis: The Facts You Need. And of course, being a part of the MS Knowledge Network from it’s inception to launch has been an invaluable experience for Jennifer. “Each day we see the positive impact our navigators make to the lives of people affect by MS.”

When asked what inspires her about the people she has met Jennifer notes, “Over the years I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with some truly amazing people: staff, volunteers, people affected by MS, healthcare professionals and colleagues from organizations, including other MS Societies. Working collaboratively with so many teams and people, all with diverse backgrounds and stories, educates and inspires me almost daily.”

Research Events and Funding Opportunities

MS Society is accepting applications for endMS Summer School and SPRINT

The MS Society’s annual endMS Summer School will be hosted in Toronto at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, June 11-14, 2018. The theme of the 2018 endMS Summer School is “Environmental and Lifestyle Factors Associated With MS: Bench to Bedside”. Applications opened December 13, 2017 and will close February 15, 2018. Visit the endMS Summer School website for updates. The MS Society is also offering the Scholar Program for Researchers IN Training (SPRINT), which eligible trainees can apply for until February 13,2018. Visit the SPRINT website for details.

Scientists, clinicians and community members come together to review research funding applications for MS Society grants and award

From January 22 to 26, scientific and clinical experts in the field of MS, as well as people from the community who are affected by MS, will convene in Toronto to evaluate research grant and award applications that have been submitted to the MS Society. Three review committees will meet to discuss operating grant applications in the biomedical and clinical and population health streams, pilot grants in the clinical and population health streams as well as personnel award applications which support Master’s, Doctoral candidates and Postdoctoral Fellows. To learn more about this process check out the MS Society 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 meeting, visit the ACTRIMS FORUM 2018 website. The MS Society research team will be on site reporting on the latest research in MS.

Research Spotlight

New results from a study reports MS vein therapy is safe but ineffective

Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) is a term coined by Dr. Paolo Zamboni that suggests the veins in the head and neck are narrowed or blocked, and therefore unable to efficiently remove blood that circulates in the central nervous system. In his 2009 study, Dr. Zamboni demonstrated that CCSVI was present in all individuals with MS and suggested that the condition may contribute to worsening of MS. Since then, research teams from around the world have published conflicting results related to CCSVI and MS. To address these conflicting results, as well as questions about how these studies were designed and whether treatments to relieve CCSVI were safe, Dr. Zamboni initiated a large double-blind trial to investigate the safety and efficacy of a treatment for CCSVI in people with MS. The results of this trial were recently published in JAMA Neurology. Check out the full details of the study here.

Health Canada approves oral Mavenclad™ for the management of RRMS


Health Canada has recently approved EMD Serono’s disease modifying therapy, Mavenclad™ (cladribine). Mavenclad™ selectively targets and accumulates in certain types of white blood cells (lymphocytes), such as disease-causing T cells. By interfering with a target cell’s ability to process DNA, the therapy leads to the depletion of disease-causing lymphocytes and results in reduced inflammation. The approval of Mavenclad™ provides another second-line option for people with active RRMS. With the approval of Mavenclad™, there are now 15 disease-modifying therapies available for Canadians diagnosed with RRMS. More information on Mavenclad™ is available on the MS Society website.
To read more about this study and other research, visit the Latest MS Research News on the MS Society website.

Research Online

In October, the MS Society research team attended the 7th Joint ACTRIMS/ECTRIMS meeting from October 25-28, 2017 in Paris, France. On the research blog, we have been posting updates from the conference to recap all the hottest and latest research being performed in MS from around the world.


Check out the post on the blood brain barrier (BBB) which is a network cells that line the blood vessels in the brain and prevent harmful substances from crossing over to the brain. The BBB becomes leaky in MS and allows harmful cells from the immune system enter into the brain and cause damage. In this post, we highlight talks from Dr. Alexandre Prat from Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Elizabeth Gowing a PhD student in Dr. Prat’s lab as well as Dr. Catherine Larochelle from the Université de Montréal.

We also have another post on the 2017 revision to the McDonald criteria for MS that was presented at the conference. The McDonald criteria for MS was first established in 2001 by neurologist Ian McDonald and his team of researchers, to diagnose individuals with MS with speed and sensitivity. The criteria includes guidelines on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) evidence, clinical exams and the use of cerebrospinal fluid to assist with the diagnosis of MS. Since 2001, the criteria has undergone three separate revisions. The 2017 criteria lessen the risk of misdiagnosis, and most importantly, individuals can be diagnosed earlier and begin treatment right away.

MS Society Funded Research

Dr. Sarah Morrow


This month we are featuring a project led by Dr. Sarah Morrow, a Professor of Neurology at Western University. Dr. Morrow obtained her MD degree from the University of Calgary and also completed a Master’s of Science in Epidemiology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is a clinician at the London MS clinic and has also established the first multiple sclerosis cognitive clinic in Canada at the Parkwood Institute. Dr. Morrow’s research interests lie in areas of cognitive dysfunction, epidemiology and corticosteroid treatment of MS.

Dr. Morrow was awarded over $150,000 in the 2016-2017 Annual Competition to carry out a project examining ways to manage cognitive impairment in MS. MS frequently affects processing speed (PS), or the ability to take in and interpret information quickly and meaningfully, and memory. Although many people with MS are affected by these symptoms, there are no known or approved treatments. Dr. Morrow’s study proposes to examine the effects of a medication currently approved for attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder called Adderall XR, in persons with MS demonstrating impaired PS. Previous research by Dr. Morrow has shown that this medication may improve PS in people with MS, but more research is needed to support this. This study, which has recruited 25 participants to date, is paramount in establishing if the medication can be repurposed to treat a common cognitive challenge in people with MS. Dr. Morrow is also leading a study to recruit participants- see the “Get Involved in a Research Study” section below for more details.

Did you know?

Each year the MS Society funds approximately $10 million in research to support studies that investigate all aspects of MS both biological and clinical. The MS Society also supports research and training programs which cultivates a network of bright young minds and engages them in activities that fine-tune their skills and knowledge in MS research. Then 2017 Research Sumamries which highlight all the research that the MS Society of Canada and the MS Scientific Research Foundation is funding is now available.

Get Involved in a Research Study

Investigating blood brain barrier abnormalities during relapses in individuals with MS.

Treatment for acute relapses in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), also called acute attacks or episodes, is usually high dose steroids, at least 1 gram per day for 5 days. It is thought that during relapses the barrier between blood vessels and the brain (blood brain barrier, BBB) becomes leaky allowing immune cells to leak into the brain, leading to inflammation and damage to the protective covering (myelin) surrounding nerves. Steroids close the BBB and allow the myelin to start healing, leading to improvement of the relapse symptoms. However, sometimes persons with MS do not fully recover from relapses, and are left with some residual symptoms. The goal of this study is to examine how leaky the BBB is before, during and immediately after steroids in persons with MS experiencing a relapse. The study is looking for individuals with relapsing remitting MS. 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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