MS Research Town Hall is happening this World MS Day – May 27. There is no better day to raise awareness of MS and the important advances that have taken place in research than on World MS Day. MS Research Town Hall is an event that is designed to engage the public in a discussion about MS research and hear the latest updates from the world’s leading scientists and health professionals. One of these experts is Dr. Helen Genova, who conducts research at Kessler Foundation in New Jersey. Dr. Genova is particularly interested in how MS affects a person’s ability to process thoughts, interact with family and friends, and perform common mental tasks. Researchers have a good idea of how MS affects the body, but less is known about how it affects the mind, and Dr. Genova has set out to provide answers that can help people with MS live the best quality of life possible. I had a chance to speak to Dr. Genova to get to know her and her research a bit better.
1. How did you become interested in MS research?
I began studying cognitive impairments in Multiple Sclerosis in graduate school. Working with Dr. John DeLuca and Dr. Nancy Chiaravalloti, two world renowned experts in the study of MS at the Kessler Foundation, I have been exposed and trained in using innovative techniques (such as neuroimaging) to study cognitive and social issues in MS.
2. How would you describe the research that you do in the area of MS?
I study 2 different areas of research in Multiple Sclerosis using different tools. I use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to study cognitive fatigue in MS. Recently, I have begun studying a new area of research: deficits in emotional processing and social cognition in MS. In this area, I have begun to study deficits in MS in facial affect recognition and Theory of Mind. With colleagues, I have begun piloting how to potentially treat these impairments.
What impact does or will your research have for those affected by MS? / What do you hope to ultimately accomplish through your work in MS?
Cognitive fatigue is a prevalent and disabling problem in MS which, notoriously, has been difficult and frustrating for clinicians/scientists to understand. My research using fMRI provides a way for scientists to finally begin to understand what occurs at the level of the brain during fatigue, which may lead to new treatments. Social cognition problems are poorly understood in MS. Many may be unaware that these problems even exist. However, deficits in social cognition may lead to difficulty in interpersonal relationships (friendships, marriage). My research will help raise awareness of these difficulties, as well as ways to treat them.
What do you enjoy most about working in the area of MS and what are some challenges you have faced or face?
One of the most satisfying things about working with MS population is the ability to target a problem that has proven difficult to study (fatigue, social cognition), and to use techniques to begin to understand them. I enjoy looking at the brain and behavior in conjunction, and finding ways to study how the brain reacts to treatment. I don’t mind challenging questions, as they make me think outside the box and search for new solutions to old problems.
Is there a favourite method or past time that you use in order to clear your mind before working?
I spend lots of time with my children, Anthony and Xavier, and my husband Matthew. They all make me laugh on a daily basis, and help me keep perspective on life. I also enjoy reading and yoga, when I can find the time!