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Research in Action

February 2018
Latest research news and updates from the MS Society of Canada

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Research Profile


Heidi Pylypjuk was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) at the age of 12 years-old. At the time, very little was known about pediatric MS which left her with many questions and very few answers. Her doctor had told her that by the time she was 20, it would be likely that she would become immobile. “I had to quit majority of my sports and was told I couldn’t’ be a veterinarian. Hearing this at a young age was hard but I was so determined to prove that doctor wrong. I pushed myself extremely hard. In 2009, I was accepted into Vet school.”

After her diagnosis, Heidi and her family became involved with the MS Society by volunteering for the MS Walk. As Heidi got older, her volunteer experience expanded to speaking at events and taking an active role in programs for young adults with MS. “I feel my life moved parallel with research and the MS Society in general. I often find in research, one is left searching for ‘the person’ in the findings. What does it mean to a person with MS. This was until I had the opportunity to be a community representative.”

Heidi was a Community Representative at this year’s Annual Grant Review meeting held in January. She participated on the Personnel Review Committee, where she provided her input on the Master’s and PhD studentship and Postdoctoral fellowship applications that were submitted for funding as part of our Annual Research Competition. “As a community representative, I had the opportunity to sit with the top scientists and not only did they welcome my feedback, they explained if anything was unclear. Along with being exposed to new ideas and exciting projects, one thing I learned was the importance of investing in the future. Those who receive funding are dedicated to MS discovery.”

Research Events and Funding Opportunities

MS Society research team will be reporting live at the 2018 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting

The 70th AAN Annual Meeting will be held in sunny Los Angeles, California from April 21-27. The AAN Annual Meeting is the world's largest gathering of neurologists, bringing together more than 10,000 neurology professionals across the globe to network, discuss cutting-edge research, and take part in top-rated education programming across a wide variety of topics, including multiple sclerosis. The meeting boosts that due to a high demand, information will be presented on MS and diseases relating to brain inflammation with sessions focused on pediatric MS, manifestations of the disease, clinical advances, disease-modifying treatment and symptom management. The MS Society research team will be on-site to attend the presentations and poster sessions and share the latest MS research updates from the conference on Twitter (@Dr_KarenLee), and the research blog (www.drkarenlee.ca). Visit the AAN website for more information on the meeting.

MS Walk and MS Bike gear up for another season!

The MS Society’s MS Walk and Bike season are upon us. Every spring thousands of Canadians come together in their communities to fundraise for and participate in MS Walk and MS Bike. They take a stand against MS and support those who are affected by multiple sclerosis. Take the next step and join us as we work to build a more hopeful future for Canadians living with MS. Visit the MS Walk and MS Bike page for more information.

Attend the MS Society of Canada hosted webinar on Therapeutic Management of Multiple Sclerosis

The MS Society of Canada has an upcoming webinar on Wednesday March 7, 2018 12:00-1:00 PM CST as part of the National Education Webinar Series on “Therapeutic Management of Multiple Sclerosis.” Dr. Michael P Namaka, Professor at the College of Pharmacy and Medicine at the University of Manitoba, will present on topics such as the underlying pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis with a focus on relapsing forms of the disease, and discussion of currently available treatment strategies for relapsing remitting MS. Visit the webinar website for more information and to register.

Research Spotlight


Is the quality of diet related to level of disability and symptom severity in MS?

Some MS worsens and some does not. Some MS worsens rapidly -- and some stays stable for years. The reasons why remain unknown which is deeply frustrating to everyone concerned with this disease. Everyone, healthy or ill, can modify their diet. But, is diet a potential modifiable factor to slow progression in MS? While many diets have become popular because they seem to result in reduced symptoms of MS, few studies have actually tested the impact of these diets in people living with MS. The research team led by Dr. Kathryn Fitzgerald which included MS Society-funded neurologist, Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie, published a report in Neurology examining the association of diet quality/ intake of specific food to disability and symptom severity in MS. See the full post here.

OCREVUS™ (ocrelizumab) is the first drug approved by Health Canada for early primary progressive MS

1995 was a milestone year in Canada with the approval of the first disease-modifying therapy (DMT) for MS, specifically for relapsing-remitting MS. 2018 can be added to the list as another milestone year with the approval of the first DMT for primary progressive MS in Canada. Roche Canada announced the approval of Ocrevus™ (ocrelizumab), with conditions, for the treatment of adults with early primary progressive MS (PPMS). The approval was based on the efficacy and safety of ocrelizumab in a phase III clinical trial which was published by Montalban and colleagues. The trial, named ORATORIO, was a multi-centre, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, Phase III clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of ocrelizumab in reducing clinical disability progression in people living with primary progressive MS. For more information, check out the MS Update.

The MS Society research team reported on latest research finding presented at the ACTRIMS Forum 2018

The research team was on site again for another year of reporting on the latest and hottest news presented at the annual Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2018. This year’s meeting was held in San Diego, California from February 1-3. There are two posts on dr.karenlee.ca talking about the emerging concepts in MS and the cutting-edge developments in MS research that were presented at the conference. The post on emerging concepts in MS discusses how new/young researchers are identifying how MS works, factors involved in MS and new ways to measure and capture disease activity and treatment options for people with MS. The post on cutting-edge developments focuses on novel therapeutics involved in remyelination, pathways that inhibit remyelination, a genetic risk factor that may also target other cell functions in the central nervous system, and reduced adverse events with extended interval dosing of an approved disease-modifying therapy. Visit drkarenlee.ca to read about the research presented at the ACTRIMS conference.

MS Society Funded Research

Dr. Bradley Kerr


This month we are featuring a project led by Dr. Bradley Kerr, an Associate Professor of Neurology in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Alberta. Dr. Kerr obtained his PhD from at the University of London King’s College in the UK and completed post-doctoral training in MS Society funded researcher’s lab, Dr. Samuel David, with a focus on inflammation in spinal cord injury and animal models of multiple sclerosis prior to establishing his independent lab in 2007. Dr. Kerr is a steering committee member of the Alberta MS Network and served as a chair of the endMS Personnel Awards review committee for the MS Society of Canada for the past three years. Dr. Kerr has also been supported from the MS Society of Canada since his years as a post-doctoral fellow until today. He was awarded the post-doctoral fellowship from the MS Society from 2004-2007 and also received the Donald Paty Career Development Award from 2009-2015. Dr. Kerr’s research interest lie in understanding the mechanisms of chronic pain after brain injury or disease such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr. Kerr was awarded nearly $350,000 in the 2017-2018 Annual Competition to carry out a project that examines sex differences in pain behaviours in an animal model of MS. Pain is a major component of MS; it is estimated that over 50% of people living with MS experience chronic, neuropathic pain. Dr. Kerr’s previous MS Society-funded research determined differences in pain between sexes in mice with MS-like disease. His research team also reported that differences in pain sensitivity can be impacted by daily exercise. Using the results of his previously funded research project, Dr. Kerr plans to explore if pain sensitivity can be modulated with an anti-inflammatory treatment of MS and if different responses are seen in male and female mice with MS-like disease. Furthermore, Dr. Kerr research plans to determine if oxidative stress, a process that causes neurodegeneration in MS, is altered between different sexes and hence is contributing to different pain sensitivities in MS. His goal is to generate important insights into the mechanisms underlying pain in MS, which will pave the way for more effective therapies.

Did you know?

Animal models of MS have allowed researchers to gain a better understanding of how MS works like the work performed by Dr. Kerr highlighted above. The three most common animal models of MS are (1) the experimental autimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE); (2) a model induced by virus called Theiler’s murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV); and (3) toxin-induced demyelination. While each of these models have their limitations, they provide a different aspect to studying MS. For example, EAE reflects the pathogenesis of MS and is useful to study experimental treatments while the TMEV model is useful in study injury and repair in the remyelination processes of MS.

Get Involved in a Research Study

Development of a Kid-Centered Preference-based Measure of Disability for Children and Adolescents with Multiple Sclerosis.

Quantifying disability in pediatric MS has been a challenge. Measurement of disability has relied on the same method used for adults, the Expanded Disability Status Scale. However, the impact of MS differs between adults and children. For children, aspects of life relating to the social environment such as family, school and community are more pertinent. Perception of disability and its impact of MS on the quality of life of children are currently measured by generic pediatric health-related quality of life (HRQL) measures. The purpose of this study is to identify the aspects of their lives affected by MS that children and parents identify as important to their quality of life (QoL), and the priority that they would assign to improving these areas of concern. For more information please visit the study page.

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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