There was certainly no shortage of young researchers and clinicians at the 2014 ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS Conference, which makes me confident that the future of MS looks bright. Traditionally, conference presentations are delivered by esteemed senior researchers, but this week I saw a number of young researchers – often referred to as trainees – take the podium to present their latest data. Not only did they show up, but they exhibited confidence and were able to address tough questions from the audience.
It was a proud moment for me to see those researchers whom the MS Society has funded from the early graduate school days, here in Boston networking and collaborating with world-class experts in the field. It validates the MS Society’s mission to be a leader in finding a cure for MS, which involves building and sustaining a network of well-trained scientists.
Here are some of the research highlights presented by MS Society-funded trainees as well some insight into their participation at ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS.
U.S. National MS Society CEO Cynthia Zagieboylo (pictured above with members of the PMSA Steering Committee and two grant recipients) stated that the “research community’s response to the PMSA’s first call for innovative research proposals has been exceptional, and speaks to both the unmet need and the galvanizing force of this international initiative”.
The PMSA is unprecedented effort involving researchers, doctors, fundraisers, volunteers, and MS Society staff leaders from around the world. This collaboration, which I am pleased to say the MS Society of Canada is an integral part of, was formed to address the complex issues and unanswered questions surrounding progressive MS. The grant competition marks the first step of an ambitious 5-year, €22 million plan that seeks to stimulate groundbreaking international research, identify and test treatments, build repositories for progressive MS tissue samples, and improve imaging techniques to observe neurodegeneration in greater detail. This plan also includes a comprehensive component on rehabilitation and symptom management, in recognition of the immediate need and critical importance of developing approaches that will manage symptoms in and improve quality of life for people living with progressive MS.
The 22 funded projects funded will focus on a number of key areas: – Clinical trials and outcome measures – Biomarkers for progression – Genetics – Rehabilitation – Pathology of progression – Developing new models that accurately capture progressive MS disease
The PMSA also announced that, in order to sustain progress and enthusiasm, they will soon be launching a second call for research proposals that will focus on funding research teams rather than individual researchers. The purpose of this award is to enable the teams to conduct transformative research in progressive MS that will have life-changing implications in the clinic. Supporting larger teams ensures that experts from all countries and disciplines can work together to overcome the most significant barriers in progressive MS research and treatment. This is truly encouraging and I look forward to witnessing this phase of the PMSA roll out in the months to come.
You can read more about the PMSA and view the full list of the grantees and their research studies on the PMSA website. In the meantime check out our brief interview with one of the grantees, Dr. Don Mahad, who is currently a neurologist treating persons with MS as well as a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. Dr. Mahad’s work focuses on understanding how energy demands in the brain are related to disease progression in MS.
One of the things I look forward to during a conference are the scientific debates. With so many topics being buzzed about in MS research, and many studies ongoing that often provide different data and views on the topics, there is an opportunity for researchers to provide unique perspectives that often challenge those of other researchers. This year the conference organizers changed things up a little, by including Twitter to allow people – both researchers and the public – to participate and ask questions remotely and in real-time. This is certainly a great move as social media has weaved itself into our everyday lives, and is proving to be an important part of research as well.
So the debate, referred also as a social media session, focused on clinical trials for drugs. The topic up for debate was whether pharmaceutical companies play a larger and more significant role than academic institutions in running clinical trials for MS therapies. The argument was phrased as, The only way is pharma: academic trials go nowhere. Once a researcher myself, I can say that this is not always the case, as I have witnessed successful drug trials led by a number of academic institutions including the one I did my research in. But as a professional who interacts with people affected by MS, I will say that this is a very important and talked about topic that people have conflicting opinions on. Here is what the experts – and Twitter – had to say.
Today marks the first day of the 2014 ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS meeting in the charming city of Boston, Massachusetts. When people hear Boston they often think of things like history, baseball, good food, and home to some of the world’s most prestigious and cutting-edge universities. This week, Boston lends itself to over 8,000 people from the global MS community, who have come together to share, discuss, and debate advances in multiple sclerosis research.
Every three years, the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ECTRIMS) and it’s American and Canadian counterpart ACTRIMS jointly host the world’s largest and most important scientific conference in MS. People of all capacities and from all backgrounds take part in the forum, including researchers, trainees, physicians, patient advocates, industry representatives, and allied health professionals. Together these groups share novel ideas, exchange best practices, and collaborate with their peers. In addition, the meeting offers a host of education and training workshops for young researchers and doctors, who comprise the next generation of bright minds that will lead the global effort to cure MS and improve quality of life for those affected.
Arriving at the John B. Hynes Veteran Memorial Convention Centre this morning, I felt a sense of excitement and encouragement as I look ahead to what will be presented this week. The program is filled with presentations from experts in the field, press conferences where we will be the first to hear about any major breakthroughs in research and treatment, and poster sessions in which researchers present their latest data to other attendees. Some of the topics that we will hear about include genetics, causes and risk factors of MS, therapeutic advances, myelin repair, progressive MS and biomarkers which are small molecules produced in the body that can inform if and how a person’s MS disease is progressing or responding to treatment.
My colleagues from the MS Society are also hear to listen in on what is happening in the MS research community. Angelica sat down with Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie, a clinician and researcher based in Manitoba who will be presenting her research here at the conference.