Finding Solutions at the World’s Largest MS Meeting

I’m pleased to be reporting from the 2014 Joint ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS Meeting in Boston. This is the largest gathering of MS professionals – more than 7,000 attendees from 90 countries. What a fantastic place to learn about how researchers around the globe are finding solutions to help everyone with MS live their best lives.

Take Dr. Laura De Giglio and her team from Rome, Italy, who are studying how “brain training” may help people with MS to restore cognitive function. At last year’s meeting, this team showed that Nintendo’s Dr. Kawashima Brain Training™ improved attention, processing speed and working memory in people with MS. What they report this year is even better news. The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allows researchers to take active images of the brain while a person is performing certain tasks. The idea is that it helps researchers to see how a particular treatment is affecting the way specific parts of the brain are functioning.

The fMRI scans suggested that improvements on tests of cognitive function were matched by increased “connectivity” between areas of the brain. It’s very exciting to actually “see” neurological function affected by treatment in people with MS, and I hope that such studies continue to show these results in larger groups of people with MS. Read the conference abstract for more details.

Do diet and nutrition hold solutions for people with MS? Researchers are finding significant connections in this field, like Dr. Anne Cross and colleagues from St. Louis. Some studies have shown a link between obesity and the risk of getting MS, so Dr. Cross’s group examined immune proteins that are found in fat tissue, to understand how they might affect the immune attack that is unleashed on the brain and spinal cord in MS. Many of these proteins, like leptin, can cause harmful inflammation. However, one molecule known as adiponectin, behaved quite differently, possibly helping to fight inflammation.

In studies involving mice with MS, mice without adiponectin developed a much worse disease, with dramatic increases in attacking immune cells and proteins. When Dr. Cross put mice on a diet in which calories were restricted by 40%, their MS-like disease was reduced, and adiponectin increased. Adiponectin increases during fasting. Dr. Cross is now conducting a small safety study of intermittent fasting in people with relapsing MS. I’m looking forward to seeing the results, and I hope that this study might lead to a safe solution for reducing disease severity in people with MS. Read the conference abstract for more details.

Another study reported this week which I find intriguing focuses on gut bacteria. As you may know, each of us has millions of bacteria living within our guts. Researchers are finding that the body’s gut microbiome may influence MS severity, which could lead to new approaches to stopping MS. Dr. Sergio E. Baranzini from San Francisco, California,  Dr. Patricia Casaccia of New York City, have joined forces to form the MS Microbiome Consortium, along with Dr. Rob Knight, a microbiome expert from Colorado. This talented team is analyzing blood and stool samples from people with MS to determine the role of gut bacteria and how treatment affects bacteria.

So far, they have found that gut bacteria differs between treated and untreated patients, and also between people with MS living in California and those in New York. Such studies require large numbers and these numbers are only possible when researchers collaborate, so this venture is sure to move MS research forward! Read the conference abstract for more details.

I’m looking forward to hearing more reports of innovative approaches being explored by investigators to find solutions for people living with MS.  Stay tuned!  Keep up with ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS activities here.

Live Webcast: Join us this Saturday, September 13th for a panel discussion on MS research advances, which will be streamed online around the world. The renowned panelists will discuss significant news and findings revealed during the world’s largest gathering of MS experts. Register Now!

Tags Healthy Living, Research      3

Nicholas LaRocca, PhD

Dr. Nicholas LaRocca is a consultant to the National MS Society. He is a clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of MS for over 30 years. He was an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and New York Medical College before joining the Society in 1997. Dr. LaRocca served as vice president of health care delivery and policy research in the research programs department of the Society. In this role, he was responsible for Society funding of research to address the symptoms of MS, and the rehabilitation, epidemiology and psychosocial aspects of MS, as well as health policy studies.