Frontiers in MS Research: Highlights from the endMS Neuroinflammation Symposium – Part I

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 6th Annual Neuroinflammation Symposium and Manitoba-Ontario endMS Regional Research and Training Centre Retreat. Every year, the symposium, which is hosted by the MS Society ‘s endMS Research and Training Network, gathers together trainees and clinical and basic researchers from across Canada and around the world under one roof to forge new connections and share exciting discoveries related to MS research. This year’s meeting was hosted in the beautiful new Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, just down the road from our National Office here in Toronto. The schedule was packed to the brim with symposium presentations and poster sessions featuring cutting-edge research in the field of MS, encompassing a wide variety of topics including myelin repair, imaging, neurodegeneration, management of cognitive and psychosocial aspects of MS, and advancement of research and clinical practice through rehabilitation.

Poster

Image credits: Dr. Margot Mayer-Proschel

The symposium was headlined by three keynote speakers whose varied backgrounds offered unique perspectives on some of the challenges facing MS researchers, along with pathways forward for understanding the disease and offering solutions for those people living with MS.

  • Dr. Bruce Trapp (Cleveland Clinic Lerner Institute, Cleveland, Ohio) is internationally known for his work investigating the causes of neurological disability in people affected by MS, as well as mechanisms of remyelination and brain repair. In his presentation, Dr. Trapp highlighted the important contribution of lesions of the gray matter (cell bodies of nerve cells in the brain, in contrast to the bundles of nerves that make up the white matter that has been classically studied in MS) to disability progression, and the current challenges of using imaging techniques to detect gray matter lesions early as a way of predicting progression.
  • Dr. Frederick Foley (Yeshiva University, New York City, New York) has dedicated his career to developing outcome measures and treatments for psychosocial challenges facing people living with MS. Dr. Foley pointed out that studies into psychosocial rehabilitation in MS have historically been lacking overall, despite the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the MS population, including clinical depression, anxiety, cognitive changes, and sexual dysfunction. In his talk, he discussed some of the successes and challenges of applying both pharmacological and cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques in people affected by MS based on rigorous clinical studies.
  • Dr. Alexander Brandt’s (Charité-University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany) work sits at the interface between clinical research in neuroimmunology and medical engineering to advance diagnostic methods used in clinical research. In his talk, Dr. Brandt discussed using the eye as a window into the brain; specifically, how pathological changes in the layers of the retina can be detected using advanced and highly sensitive imaging techniques to help predict overall disease activity in people affected by optic neuritis that is associated with inflammatory conditions like MS and neuromyelitis optica (NMO).

Other highlights from the symposia include:

  • Dr. Jeffery Haines, postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai Medical Center (New York City, New York) jointly funded by the MS Society and Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé, whose exciting research explores novel therapeutics for countering neurodegeneration and progression in MS by targeting a molecule implicated in nerve damage.
  • Dr. Jacob Sosnoff (University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois), whose background in kinesiology is a driving force behind his research focus on the predicators, consequences, and prevention of falls in people living with MS across the disability spectrum.
  • Dr. Corree Laule (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC), a recognized expert on MS imaging who is funded by the MS Society, described some of her seminal work exploring the associations between advanced imaging markers and the study of nervous tissues from post-mortem brains in an effort to better understand the mechanisms of damage that lead to symptoms and disability.
  • Mr. Marc-André Lécuyer, Ph.D. candidate at McGill University (Montreal, Quebec), presented his work exploring how immune cells overcome the blood-brain barrier – the gateway to the central nervous system – in turn leading to the destructive inflammation that characterizes MS.
  • Dr. John Fisk (Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia) has a distinguished career of examining the epidemiology (the study of the distribution and determinants of disease among populations) of MS and finding ways to determine early signs of cognitive impairment. Dr. Fisk discussed the urgent need for simple, fast tests that can be used in the clinic to screen for cognitive dysfunction and improve quality of life for people living with MS.
  • Ms. Karen Turpin, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta), discussed how measures of self-rated health among people living with MS represent a powerful predictor of disability progression.
  • Dr. Jiwon Oh (St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Ontario), recipient of the MS Society’s Decker Family Transitional Career Development Award, is a leading expert on advancing imaging techniques in MS. In her talk, she introduced the clinico-radiological paradox – whereby imaging markers of MS lesions correlate poorly with clinical disability and vice versa – and examined promising imaging methods of the spinal cord in the hopes of finding biomarkers that will help personalize treatment for each person living with MS.

For a complete list of speakers and their biographies, check out the Neuroinflammation Symposium website.

In addition to the many excellent seminars, the symposium offered the opportunity for the brightest young minds in MS research to present their findings and accomplishments in poster form. This year, the symposium showcased the work of over 30 trainees from across Canada, with posters spanning topics ranging from disease mechanisms in animals with an MS-like disease to examinations of rehabilitation therapies and quality of life in people living with MS. What struck me was the incredible enthusiasm and dedication of the trainees to their research, along with their ability to contextualize their work within the overarching goal of finding a cure for MS and enabling people affected by MS to enhance their quality of life.

Although each of the posters was of the highest calibre, in the end a small handful of presenters were selected as the best of the best based on judging by a panel of seasoned researchers. In the next installment, I will be highlighting the work of one of the Poster Award recipients and hearing her perspective on how her research career has been influenced by the Neuroinflammation Symposium.

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