I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t start the day without a nice, strong cup o’ joe (or two). Some interesting new findings appear to suggest that my coffee habit is nothing to be ashamed of. Results from a new study have just been released linking coffee consumption to a reduced risk of MS. Data from the study are to be presented in April at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Washington. Although details are still scarce, the findings are available in abstract form (you will need to register before you can read the abstract, but registration is free).
There’s a lot of buzz in the world of research and in the media about clinical trials. Indeed, just a few weeks ago there was a great deal of excitement surrounding our announcement of the MESCAMS trial investigating the safety and efficacy of mesenchymal stem cell therapy in people living with MS. Yet for all the attention they receive, clinical trials are quite often a misunderstood topic. Since clinical trials represent the final link between the laboratory discovery of a therapy, and having that therapy be made readily available to the public, it’s important to clear up any confusion about the subject and ensure the process is transparent and understandable.
In this week’s Research Decoder, I’ll be debunking some of the most common misconceptions about clinical trials. There are already many fantastic resources available online explaining what clinical trials are, why they’re important, and what some of the jargon means (not least of all our very own Introduction to Clinical Trials), so I won’t be retreading charted territory. Instead, I’ll focus on three statements I hear regularly from people who ask me about the ins and outs of clinical trials.
The world of research is brimming with fancy words and complex ideas, and trying to unscramble scientific lingo can at times be a tricky and exhausting endeavour. In fact, some scientific terms are so technical that only experts who specialize in a particular field will understand what they mean, leaving other scientists scratching their heads in confusion. People occasionally approach me to ask “what did that news article mean when they said outcome measures?” or “what is a randomized, double-blind clinical trial?”
These words and concepts shape the language researchers and clinicians use to describe what they know or are learning about MS. It’s important, however, that the entire MS community – whether it’s people living with MS, family members, caregivers, donors, clinicians, or researchers – actively participate in that discussion.
In a new weekly series called Research Decoder, I’ll tackle some of the complex terms and concepts that come up often in MS research and, in the process, hopefully eliminate any confusion. This week, I’ll be discussing incidence and prevalence,two terms that are frequently used in epidemiology but are regularly mixed up or used incorrectly. Epidemiology is a branch of research concerned with the distribution and determinants of disease among populations. Data generated from epidemiology research informs public health, and can help understand the history of a disease and determine who is at risk of developing a disease. Distinguishing these two terms is important when discussing the patterns, causes, and effects of MS in the population.
On January 29, I was pleased to be part of an exciting announcement made by the MS Society to fund a $4.2 million grant for MESCAMS (MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients), the Canadian arm of an international study that’s probing the safety and efficacy of treatment with mesenchymal stem cells for MS.
The bright and airy Courtyard Café at Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre was packed with special guests and enthusiastic media to witness the announcement of this landmark clinical trial, a collaborative effort led by two eminent Canadian researchers and stem cell experts – Dr. Mark Freedman at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa, and Dr. James Marriott at University of Manitoba – and jointly funded by the MS Society, MS Scientific Research Foundation, Research Manitoba, and A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.
Both conventional and social media were ablaze with updates as Mr. Yves Savoie, President and CEO of the MS Society, unveiled the study and lauded prospective participants as “pioneers in [the pursuit of] research breakthroughs” that will unlock new answers for people living with MS. One of those individuals living with MS, Ms. Lizelle Mendoza – who was diagnosed in 2007 – took to the podium and deeply moved us with her words of optimism, saying that she was “overjoyed and filled with hope” when she learned about the new trial for stem cell therapy. To Lizelle and other Canadians living with MS, this study marks an important step forward in unraveling the mystery of MS and developing new and effective treatments for this unpredictable disease.
Ms. Lizelle Mendoza, Dr. James Marriott and I at the MESCAMS announcement.