Why #BurgersToBeatMS is critical to advancing research in Canada

 

20900550_10155863739382494_8699766386079112798_oBurgers to Beat MS day raises funds to help improve the lives of Canadians living with multiple sclerosis. This fundraising campaign led the MS Society of Canada in partnership with A&W Food Services of Canada Inc has already raised over $9 million over the past 8 years, and this year A&W increased their donation to $2 from every Teen Burger® sold across the country on this day. Burgers to Beat MS creates an opportunity for people across the country to come together to support Canadian-led efforts to better understand MS and find a cure, while enjoying a delicious Teen Burger®.

The cause of MS is still a mystery and researchers continue to examine ways to prevent, diagnose and treat this highly unpredictable and often debilitating disease.  Support from A&W allows the MS Society to invest in innovative research, support international research collaborations, and translate discoveries from ideas to new clinical tools and treatments.

Here are some projects that would not be possible without the amazing fundraising efforts of A&W and other dedicated partners and volunteers of the MS Society:

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Hack4Health team Roze receives MS Society funding to develop new fatigue management resource

Team Roze at Hack4Health 2.0. Pictured (left to right): Lisa Loiselle (Co-chair), Lori-Ann Williams, Marium Kirmani, Rui Su, Karla Boluk (Co-chair)

Team Roze at Hack4Health 2.0. Pictured (left to right): Lisa Loiselle (Co-chair), Lori-Ann Williams, Marium Kirmani, Rui Su, Karla Boluk (Co-chair)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Roze, a team of University of Waterloo students and the winners of last Fall’s annual Hack4Health competition hosted by the university. Hack4Health is a 36-hour innovation marathon bringing together students from multi-disciplinary fields working together to design a technology-based project on new wellness solutions for people living with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Check out a previous blog post about the Hack4Health program and winners of the 2015 competition.

The members of team Roze – which include Lori-Ann Williams, Marium Kirmani, Rui Su and Tina Chan –bring experience from different areas: public health, pharmacy, software development and informatics. These talented ladies were excited about the opportunity to learn about MS and other neurodegenerative diseases as well as how they could contribute their skills of intersecting technology and health to make improvements in the quality of life for people living with MS. At Hack4Health, they pitched the idea of an app that promotes appropriate physical activity for women living with MS to help cope with and potentially reduce fatigue, one of the most common symptoms of MS.  As the winners of the competition, they were selected to work with a supervisor to further develop their project with the help of a $15,000 grant from the MS Society of Canada.

In my interview with team Roze, I learned more about what motivated them to participate in Hack4Health, their fatigue-based technology, and a bit about the members of the team themselves.

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World MS Day 2017: Highlighting research that aims to make life with MS better

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Coordinated by the MS International Federation since 2009, each year the last Wednesday in May marks World Multiple Sclerosis Day. May is also MS awareness month, where the MS community unites to raise awareness of the challenges of today and rallies to find solutions for tomorrow. In fact the MS Society of Canada spent a few days in Ottawa, Ontario this month to meet with parliamentarians and make the voices of people with MS heard. Check out the news article highlighting our advocacy efforts around securing income and employment, improving access and accelerating research.

#Lifewith MSWith the goal of helping better the lives of 2.3 million people living with MS world-wide, events around the world have highlighted what it means to live a #LifewithMS– the theme of this year’s World MS Day. The hashtag is being used around the world to share personal experiences and advice on how to improve life with MS.

Additionally, there is a great deal of research taking place around the world that has enormous potential to enhance #LifewithMS, whether it’s through the generation of new treatments, gathering insight into the risk factors for MS, or enabling the development of approaches that help people with MS manage symptoms.

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New protein causing MS: Hope or Hype?

How does multiple sclerosis begin? This is the million-dollar question and the answer to this question could lead to the ultimate goal of ending MS. Every year the MS Society of Canada invests millions in research to support scientists working to figure out the cause of MS.  While factors contributing to MS development and progression are slowly being discovered, a single cause of MS remains elusive. Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about a protein that is believed to be linked  to be the cause of MS, but what’s the hype all about? I had a chance to review the article published in Journal of Neuroinflammation and noted some interesting findings.

Here is the quick breakdown:

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First drug for treatment of Progressive MS Approved by the FDA

For people living with relapse-remitting MS, 1993 was a turning point.  Before then, the only relief available to people living with MS was with the use of relapse-management therapies like steroids, which were used to decrease the severity and duration of an MS relapse by suppressing inflammation, as well as symptom management therapies. However, no options were available that could modify the underlying disease course and prevent relapses from happening in the first place. All that changed in 1993, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first disease-modifying therapy beta interferon 1-b (Betaseron) for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS, ushering in the era of modern MS therapy. Following Health Canada’s own regulatory approval process, Betaseron was marketed in Canada in 1995.

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Multi-million dollar initiative launched to study the progression of MS

Today the MS Society of Canada, along with Biogen Canada and Brain Canada, announced something that could change the way we understand, diagnose, treat and ultimately cure MS. I am excited to share the news with Canadians that a $7+ million study will be launched within a year, which focuses on studying progression in MS over time.

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Depression and Disability: Playing a role in opinions about Physician Assisted Death?

Each person living with multiple sclerosis (MS) experiences a different journey. Life with MS can sometimes be difficult, especially when the person faces depression, anxiety, disability and pain, which all impact their quality of life.  So, when MS Society of Canada-funded researcher and MS neurologist Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie from the University of Manitoba and her colleagues decided to reach out to people living with MS to hear their views on physician-assisted death (PAD) (or medical assistance in dying)- it brought about some  interesting data that warrants further understanding of the significant life challenges in MS that need to be addressed.

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ACTRIMS 2017: Putting the microbes in our gut under the microscope

Each person’s gastro-intestinal system is home to trillions of bacteria collectively known as the gut microbiota. These tiny creatures are essential partners in good health, and in less than a decade MS researchers have gone from considering the gut microbiota to be a curiosity to gathering evidence that disruption of the gut’s natural bacterial balance is linked to MS. A powerful method of studying the gut microbiota is to investigate the gut microbiome – the genetic composition of the microbiota. Unresolved questions about the gut microbiome persist, such as: Do people with MS have different microbiome “fingerprints” than people without MS? Does the gut microbiome play a functional role in modifying MS risk and/or disease course? Does the gut microbiome represent a potential therapeutic target in MS? Leaders in the field of MS and gut microbiome research here at ACTRIMS 2017 presented some of the latest findings that tackle these questions.

Wild garden of the gut bacteria (Credits: Nicola Fawcett; Wikimedia Commons)

Wild garden of the gut bacteria (Credits: Nicola Fawcett; Wikimedia Commons)

 

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ACTRIMS 2017: What we know (and don’t know) about dietary factors and MS

The interaction between dietary factors and MS can be a tough nut to crack. On one hand, there is mounting evidence to show that certain nutrients and dietary factors can influence immune regulation and potentially modify the risk of MS or its disease course. On the other hand, dietary factors are notoriously challenging to study in a controlled clinical trial setting; diet trials are difficult to design, results can be influenced by a plethora of other factors (including physical activity, socioeconomic status, certain lifestyle habits, etc.), and individuals often find it challenging to adhere to the intervention plan. Nonetheless, there’s a great deal of high caliber research taking place that’s chipping away at the mysteries surrounding the relationship between certain dietary factors and MS risk and disease course. At this year’s ACTRIMS Forum, several experts in the field presented some of the latest data on this file.

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Genetics and environmental/behavioural factors top the agenda at ACTRIMS Forum 2017

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Bringing scientists and clinicians together under one roof to share knowledge and forge collaborations is a key stage in moving MS research forward. This year’s Americas Committee for Treatment & Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum kicks off today in Orlando, Florida. The research team is on site to absorb the latest research and clinical findings in the field and distill the information down into digestible, take-home messages for our readers.

The theme of this year’s forum is “Environmental Factors, Genetics and Epigenetics in MS Susceptibility and Clinical Course”. Not surprisingly, we’ll be hearing a lot about hot topics like interactions between MS and diet, why women are more susceptible to MS than men, the role of viral infections and the gut microbiome in MS, and new insights from in-depth genome-wide analyses to pinpoint genetic variants associated with MS. Many of these topics have grown from niche topics on the fringes of scientific investigation into comprehensive and evolving fields of study in their own right, so we’re looking forward to some fresh and exciting insights into how our genes, our environment, and our behaviours can influence MS.

#actrims2017 attendees are in for a packed schedule over the next few days.

#actrims2017 attendees are in for a packed schedule over the next few days.

Stay tuned for more updates on #actrims2017 over the next few days, both here on the blog and on Twitter at @Dr_KarenLee.