Yesterday, neuroscientist and National MS Society fellow, Jonah Chan, PhD, became the first recipient of a new international prize launched to recognize innovation and progress in multiple sclerosis research. His unique research into brain repair in MS has the potential to transform the treatment of MS.
Among the accomplishments for which he was recognized, Dr. Chan invented new nanofiber and micropillar technologies to rapidly identify compounds that stimulate the regrowth of the myelin nerve casing, which is damaged in MS. He is now testing thousands of compounds, including some FDA approved therapies, to explore agents that may promote remyelination and repair in MS - a strategy that could shave years off the development of important new treatments.
Meet Dr. Chan and learn about what drives him to push MS research further:
The National MS Society seeks to attract and train promising young investigators and doctors into the field of MS by supporting the training of postdoctoral fellows in studies related to MS. The Society is currently supporting 72 fellowships and early career awards, representing a total of $13 million in commitments. In fact, from its humble beginnings — funding six fellows in 1955 — the Society’s research fellowship program has trained more than 800 scientists, clinicians and medical professionals in the field of MS research.
With the increasing number of new therapies being developed for use in MS, there is a particular need for physicians trained in conducting clinical trials. To this end, the Society established the Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellowship Program in honor of our founder. This program provides doctors with up to 3 years of formal training in key elements associated with conducting clinical trials in MS. We sat down with Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellow, Sabeen Lulu, MD, to discuss the work she's doing with MS research leader Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant to design studies that will look into the challenges faced by children and adults living with the disease.
I was just reading about a clinical trial that’s recruiting participants right now. The investigators will be testing a well established injectable treatment against a newer medication, looking primarily to see which results in the fewest relapses over the course of a year among people with relapsing-remitting MS.
When I read about such clinical research, I often read the “inclusion criteria” (the circumstances under which you are deemed eligible to take part) to see whether I could be a candidate. A big part of me feels that, as a person whose MS is (knock on wood and bless my neurologist) under pretty good control, I should participate in research from which others might benefit. I’m well aware that the treatment I use (which, coincidentally, is one of the drugs in the new trial) only could come to market after it was tested extensively on many people with MS. Indeed, no new treatment can be made available without exhaustive human testing. So it’s incumbent upon those of us with MS to consider participating in such research, right?
Hardly a day goes by when I am not asked the tough question, “When will there be a therapy for my kind of MS?” The people asking this question are talking of course about the type of MS that doesn’t wax and wane, but instead creeps slowly or quickly along, robbing a person of crucial abilities and quality of life.
These are big issues but we are making progress. In the last couple weeks we’ve seen the launch of two new clinical trials that are aiming to stop nervous system damage in people with progressive forms of MS. These trials try to address a seriously unmet need for treatments that can stop or reverse worsening of symptoms.
I just visited MSConnection.org, the online community of the Society, and I was struck by something that I also hear as I meet people with MS around the country. This is a complex disease. More than 80 online discussions are posted about symptoms – and they’re all different topics: “Arm pain,” “Shaky,” “Numbness in fingers,” “Restless leg syndrome”…the list goes on.
This is why a comprehensive approach to research is so essential – we need to find lots of different therapies that can stop the disease, but we also need to find other intervention options that can improve the symptoms that affect people with MS. That’s why we’re supporting 50 studies addressing symptoms, exercise and rehabilitation, with the goal to improve mobility, fatigue, strength, walking, spasticity, cardio fitness, cognition, and preventing falls. And to enhance research in this area, we have a special training program for rehabilitation research.
Following our June 11 webcast, Living Well with MS: Lifestyle, Diet and Complementary Therapies, we sat down with Dr. Albert Lo to get answers to your questions about exercise and MS. Here is the first half of our interview with Dr. Lo.
Are there any specific workouts, keeping one's personal limits in mind, that are recommended?
First of all, I just want to be transparent that I’m approaching this subject as a physician and neurologist who is involved in translational clinical research. I’m not an exercise physiologist, physiatrist or physical therapist, and therefore don’t have their specialized training or perspective.
Following our June 11 webcast, Living Well with MS: Lifestyle, Diet and Complementary Therapies, we sat down with Dr. Allen Bowling to get answers to your most popular questions about diet and MS.I hear about all these different diets for people with MS. How do I know which one I should follow?
There’s a quotation that I love by nutrition writer, Michael Pollan – I think about it personally every day and share it with my patients as well. He summarized thousands of pages of writing with these seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Following last week’s webcast, Living Well with MS: Lifestyle, Diet and Complementary Therapies, we sat down with Dr. Brenda Banwell, MD, to get answers to your questions about vitamins and supplements that are potentially helpful and harmful for people with MS.In addition to Vitamin D, what other vitamins or supplements do you recommend taking on a daily basis to help MS?
There really isn’t anything else that’s even close to vitamin D in terms of research support for its use in MS. However, I do a blood test of the serum levels of vitamin B12 to make sure my patients aren’t deficient. Vitamin B12 deficiency has a negative impact on myelin, which is important for neurological function and is a particular target in MS. In fact, B12 deficiency can actually look like MS in some patients, and having low B12 if you have MS can further compromise the brain and spine. That said, healthy people who are eating a regular diet are rarely deficient in B12, and if you have normal levels, taking additional B12 has no proven value. People who are on some extreme diets or don’t eat red meat are more likely to have low levels and should be treated if that’s the case.
During last week’s webcast, Living Well with MS: Lifestyle, Diet and Complementary Therapies, we received a number of questions about vitamin D. We sat down with Dr. Brenda Banwell, MD, following the webcast to get answers to some of the most popular questions you submitted.How much vitamin D should a person with MS be taking?
The graph below shows the current recommendations, for the general population, according to the Canadian Food Guide. If you are living with MS, I would recommend that you work with your healthcare provider to obtain your Vitamin D blood levels (also called a 25-hydroxy Vitamin D), which is a measurement of the circulating Vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D levels should be around 75 nanomals per liter (Canada) or between 40-80 nanograms per milliliter (United States).
Every so often someone who cares about me will give me a book or forward an article about how a certain dietary regimen might help people with multiple sclerosis. I appreciate their concern, and I understand that friends and family of people with diseases such as MS often feel helpless. Sending information such as this is my loved ones’ own way to feel helpful.
I sure wish that something as simple as changing my diet could change the course of my MS, and I wish altering my kids’ diets could prevent their ever being diagnosed with this disease. But, as the National MS Society notes, there’s really no scientific evidence to show that any special diet has that kind of power.
I have been interested in the effects and side effects of smoked cannabis for many years. Having been involved in multiple sclerosis research and patient care, I’ve had a significant minority of my patients report smoking cannabis on a regular basis – indicating that it helps with pain, spasticity or both.
In a disease without a cure, such as MS, good symptom management is important and if indeed smoked cannabis is proving helpful, then these potential benefits need to be weighed against the possible side effects of further cognitive dysfunction.