Tuesday, November 29, 2011

MS Society of Canada announces $3.8 million to study progressive forms of multiple sclerosis

November 29, 2011 - Toronto - The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation announced a $3.8 million grant to investigate the complex interplay between degeneration and inflammation in multiple sclerosis (MS). The grant will fund a study led by Dr. Peter Stys from the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, which would investigate damage that occurs in MS prior to inflammation. This research may have special relevance for those with progressive forms of MS.

Collaborative grants funded by the MS Scientific Research Foundation support large, innovative, multi-centre studies that will lead to major advances in the field of multiple sclerosis. Key collaborators of the study include colleagues from the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia, and Laval University and the VU University in Amsterdam. The MS Scientific Research Foundation receives the majority of its funding from the MS Society of Canada.

To date, researchers have largely attributed central nervous system (CNS) damage in MS to an autoimmune attack in which inflammation causes the hallmark patches of demyelination (also called plaques or lesions).

“This study hypothesizes that the inflammatory response in MS is the resultof an underlying degenerative process rather than the primary cause of injury,” says Dr. Peter Stys, lead researcher, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Calgary. “In other words, an underlying mechanism causes degeneration that prompts the inflammatory process, which in turn causes more degeneration.”
In general, progressive disease is characterized by a non-inflammatory neurodegenerative process. Approximately 10 per cent of people with MS are diagnosed with primary progressive MS. A more common type of progressive MS is secondary progressive MS – which begins as relapsing remitting MS, but then transitions to a progressive course. Fifty per cent of those with an initial diagnosis of relapsing MS eventually develop secondary progressive MS within ten years of diagnosis.

“The important roles of autoimmunity and the damage of inflammation are undeniable. But this doesn’t mean that this is the starting point. If we can understand more about the earliest triggers in the disease processes in MS, we might learn how to intervene and prevent the damage that occurs prior to an inflammatory response,” Dr. Stys says. “This research could provide information that benefits both relapsing remitting and progressive forms of MS.”

Currently in Canada, there are seven disease-modifying treatments approved for relapsing forms of MS. However, despite best efforts, little progress has been made to date in the disease management of primary progressive MS or secondary progressive MS without relapses.

“We urgently need research that tackles the challenges unique to the progressive forms of MS,” says Karen Lee, vice-president of research, MS Society of Canada. “Our hope is that Dr. Stys and his team of research collaborators will help us find answers. Can we identify the mechanisms that cause damage associated with progressive MS? Will the results lead to the development of new therapies that prevent, delay or slow progressive MS? This research may help answer these questions.”

“There are often good news stories about treatments for relapsing-remitting MS and little to hope for with respect to progressive MS,” says Michelle Amerie, who was diagnosed with MS over thirty years ago. “It’s a relief to know that researchers from across the country are working together to try and understand the progressive form of MS. It makes me feel supported, gives me some hope.”

While there are currently no effective medical treatments for progressive MS without relapses, it is possible to alleviate many symptoms, to improve some functions, and compensate for disabilities and thus improve quality of life. Visit the MS Society of Canada website for more information: mssociety.ca/en/help/types_prog.htm

About multiple sclerosis and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. It is the most common neurological disease of young adults in Canada. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, and the unpredictable effects of MS last for the rest of their lives. The MS Society provides services to people with MS and their families and funds research to find the cause and cure for this disease. Please visit mssociety.ca or call 1-800-268-7582 to make a donation or for more information.

About the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation
The Foundation is related to the MS Society of Canada, which is its main funding source. The foundation funds large, innovative, multi-centre collaborative studies that will lead to major advances in the field of multiple sclerosis. It is a unique Canadian resource.

About the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary
UCalgary’s Faculty of Medicine is a national leader in health research with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research, education and delivery. The Faculty of Medicine trains the next generation of health practitioners and move new treatments and diagnostic techniques from the laboratory bench to the hospital bedside, improving patient care. For more information, visit medicine.ucalgary.ca or follow them on twitter.com

About the Hotchkiss Brain Institute
The Hotchkiss Brain Institute at UCalgary, consists of more than 100 physicians and scientists who are dedicated to advancing neurological and mental health research and education. The Institute’s research strengths in foundational neuroscience (axon biology and regeneration, cerebral circulation, neural systems and behaviour) are leading to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care. More information on the Hotchkiss Brain Institute can be found at www.hbi.ucalgary.ca.

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