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.
Dr. Cornelia Laule
Dr. Cornelia Laule was the recipient of an MS Society of Canada Women Against MS (WAMS) Transitional Career Development Award. Having completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Laule joined MS Society funding recipient, Dr. Wayne Moore, as a postdoctoral fellow in UBC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
Last week Dr. Laule presented an overview of the pros and cons of various newly emerging imaging techniques. Dr. Laule’s research is as exciting as it is technical: cutting-edge studies are looking at ways to capture myelin damage and repair at a highly sophisticated level. Clinical trials and biological studies focused on myelin repair face difficulties in that there is currently no validated imaging method for measuring the repair process in the central nervous system. Dr. Laule’s research is directly aimed at developing an approach to measure remyelination in its early stages, and proposes that employing multiple techniques is ideal. Once they are tested, these techniques may serve as an important component of future drug trials that measure the ability for agents to repair myelin in MS.
Dr. Dalia Rotstein
In 2012, Dr. Rotstein was the recipient of an MS Society of Canada MD Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in the field of Clinical and Population Health research. A graduate from McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Rotstein is currently a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of Harvard Medical School’s largest teaching medical facilities.
During a session at the conference on comorbidities and risk behaviors, Dr. Dalia Rotstein presented the fascinating results of her recent investigation into diet quality and risk of MS. The link between good diet and lower risk of chronic disease has been demonstrated in cases of diabetes, dementia, cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular diseases. The question as to whether MS has a relation to diet has been an area of intense interest over the years. According to Dr. Rotstein’s large-scale population-based study, there is no evidence to suggest that an association between diet quality and the risk of MS exists.
Visit our website to learn more about diet, exercise and MS.
I had a chance to catch up with Dr. Rotstein and ask her a few questions about MS research and her involvement at the conference:
1. How do you prepare for a research conference like ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS?
If I am planning to contribute my own research, the preparation often begins about 2 years in advance with developing a project idea, then applying for funding and approval from the research ethics board. When the data are collected and analyzed, I will put together an abstract to submit to the scientific committee of the conference typically 4-6 months in advance. A different kind of preparation happens 1 or 2 weeks before, when I review the presentation titles to get excited about the meeting and decide which presentations to attend.
2. What do you hope to get out of your experiences at conferences? Why are they important to young investigators?
First and foremost, conferences are important in order to stay updated on the latest research in the field. Many times new developments can serve as a springboard for your own research ideas. Secondly, I think they are important for meeting other investigators who may be interested in acting as mentors or collaborators. And lastly, they are an essential forum for receiving feedback on your own work – finished or in progress.
3. How has support from the MS Society influenced your career as a researcher?
It has been critical at every step of the way. I first learned about MS through an MS Society-sponsored program when I participated in the MS Read-a-Thon along with my Grade 7 class. Later, during my first year of neurology residency, a travel grant from the MS Society allowed me to attend the first Canadian endMS conference, which got me excited about all of the innovation in this area and helped to motivate me to pursue a career in MS. Most recently, the MS Society funded my fellowship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and my studies at Harvard towards a Masters in Public Health. These 2 years expanded my clinical skills in MS, solidified my research interests in MS epidemiology, and allowed me to develop the statistical knowledge and tools necessary to conduct high-quality research.
4. What keeps you engaged in the MS field and where do you think research in MS is heading in the future?
My patients keep me engaged! They inspire me to work harder and appreciate how urgent it is that we develop a better understanding of and better treatments for this disease. Their questions in the clinic have led to some of my projects. For example, many of my patients have tried different diets for their MS – some with good results, some with little benefit. This is what inspired me to undertake the project which I presented at ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS on whether dietary patterns may be linked to MS.
Research in the field is turning towards progressive MS and how to prevent neurodegeneration. We have many good treatments for the inflammatory phase of MS today, but there are no approved drugs for progressive MS. Fortunately, there is now a drug in preliminary trials which may repair myelin….this is a very exciting development!