Putting a face on a new generation of promising MS researchers: Jennifer Ahn and The Lawrason Foundation

The MS Society of Canada is committed to supporting the next generation of talented young researchers who will take on the mantle of advancing MS research in the search for a cure. The annual competition for studentship awards and postdoctoral fellowships is a key plank of the MS Society’s research training program that allows us to build a robust network of bright minds in the field and is essential for attracting and retaining the next generation of MS experts. Once a trainee myself, I know first-hand the importance of receiving invaluable support that allowed me to conduct research and eventually build a career focused on helping people affected by MS.

In this post, I’ll be profiling Jennifer Ahn, one of our up-and-coming young minds in MS research, who, thanks to the generous contributions of our donors and The Lawrason Foundation, is pursuing her doctoral studies with a focus on the early stage of MS. Find out how you can help young MS researchers like Jennifer in their work.

Jennifer Ahn

“I’m hoping that, from the insights of my research, we can find treatments that address an early stage of MS.”

One afternoon Jennifer Ahn stared at her inbox and couldn’t stop smiling. Her research had been chosen from numerous applicants as an award recipient of the MS Society of Canada’s Doctoral Studentship competition. Across town, members of The Lawrason Foundation were also smiling, knowing that the award established in their name was about to make a difference for Canadians living with MS.

Jennifer works under the mentorship of Dr. Shannon Dunn at the University of Toronto, where she studies how obesity increases the risk of MS. The impacts of obesity on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are well documented, but there is a gap in knowledge about the impact of obesity on autoimmune diseases. Jennifer hopes to change this.

“Right now we can safely say that if someone has a family history of MS, they should watch their weight, live a healthy lifestyle and be mindful of their diet,” Jennifer says. “But if we are able to find a molecule that explains this, perhaps we can develop a preventative or early treatment.”

When Jennifer began her work, funding was difficult to obtain. Though the Canadian MS research community was supportive of her studies, she could feel the tightening of the faucet with funding. The Lawrason Foundation MS Society of Canada Doctoral Studentship award allowed her to jumpstart her research and focus on the science.

“Without this award, I wouldn’t be able to do the experiments I need to get answers,” Jennifer says. “It allows me to add new components to my process so that I can get results that much faster. I’m hoping that, from the insights of my research, we can find treatments that address an early stage of MS.”

Arthur Angus, lawyer and president of the Foundation, says it was important to know that all of the money is going to Canadian MS research. As someone with a close family connection to MS, he emphasized that The Lawrason Foundation sees Canadian MS research as a priority — it is the main driver behind their funding of Jennifer’s work.

To find out how you can support the next generation of MS researchers contact Lee Nichols at lee.nichols@mssociety.ca or 1-800-268-7582 x3131.

2 thoughts on “Putting a face on a new generation of promising MS researchers: Jennifer Ahn and The Lawrason Foundation

  1. Robyn Baldwin

    As a newly diagnosed MS patient this is great news. However I’m super healthy & fit and run obstacle course races as a passion. I’m more curious about leaky gut & inflammatory diets allowing for auto immune diseases to flourish in our bodies. I wish there was more of a link to understand it more.

    1. drkarenlee Post author

      Hi Robyn,

      Thank you for your comments. It’s great to hear that you maintain a healthy, active lifestyle! The MS research community is becoming more aware of the role the gut microbiome plays in MS, and as a result there is a noticeable increase in the number of articles being published and abstracts presented at conferences. Here is one blog post that discusses a study which looked at specific gut bacteria in people with MS:

      Also the MS Society recently launched a request for research proposals that will invite researchers to study the gut microbiome in pediatric MS patients, which could provide the earliest clues as to what may be triggering MS:

      I will continue reporting on the latest evidence in this area as it comes up!

      Dr. K


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