Skip to navigation Skip to content

News

Share

2017 John Dystel Prize for MS Research Goes to Prof. Alan J. Thompson of University College London

April 20, 2017

Alan J. Thompson, MD

-- A Leader in Research Addressing Symptoms and Progression in People with MS

SUMMARY
  • Alan J. Thompson, MD, Dean of the University College London Faculty of Brain Sciences, has been chosen by a committee of his peers to receive the National MS Society/American Academy of Neurology’s 2017 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research.
  • Professor Thompson is being honored for pioneering research in ways to address symptoms and improve quality of life for people with MS, and as a leader and driver of the International Progressive MS Alliance.
  • The $15,000 Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology, and is funded through a research fund established by the late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his late wife Marion in honor of their son John Jay Dystel. 
DETAILS
Professor Alan J. Thompson, MD, FMedSci, FRCP, FRCPI, Dean of the University College London Faculty of Brain Sciences, has been chosen by a committee of his peers to receive the National MS Society/American Academy of Neurology’s 2017 John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research. He has focused on the care and treatment of people with MS for 35 years, especially primary progressive MS (PPMS), where he was instrumental in using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine criteria for diagnosis. His work has opened the way to understanding the complexities of PPMS and other progressive forms of MS.
 
Professor Thompson is also a prime mover of the International Progressive MS Alliance, a global collaborative that brings together the force of 16 MS societies and researchers, and for which he is the scientific chair. “Alan’s exceptional vision and the universal respect that he commands have been key to forging this unprecedented initiative to find solutions and treatments for progressive MS,” said Cyndi Zagieboylo, Chair of the Alliance Executive Committee and President and CEO of the National MS Society (U.S.)
 
“He has spearheaded interest and enthusiasm” in almost every aspect of research in MS, wrote Jerry S. Wolinsky, MD (The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston), in support and nomination of Professor Thompson. “He has cultivated and enabled a highly visible and successful program in the clinical neurosciences, contributed to the research careers of numerous clinician investigators, and carried forward the direction of one of the critical centers for clinical research in MS.”
 
“Professor Thompson is among the very best of that generation of physician-scientists who work in the complex field of MS,” Xavier Montalban, MD, PhD (Vall Hebron University Hospital Multiple Sclerosis Centre of Catalonia), added, in support of Prof. Thompson.

Professor Thompson’s contributions include: 

Helping define primary progressive MS through imaging: Professor Thompson’s imaging work has proved essential to developing protocols (now used worldwide) for the use of MRI to assess the effectiveness of new disease-modifying treatments. MRI techniques he developed have given doctors the ability to predict disease course and disability. He also led early studies of beta-interferon for treating primary and secondary progressive MS.
 
Spearheading and acting as Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Progressive MS Alliance, a growing global initiative to end progressive MS: The Alliance began by bringing together the world’s leading experts in MS to identify the critical knowledge and treatment gaps where progress must be made to achieve breakthroughs necessary to change the world for people with progressive MS. “Collaboration is absolutely critical when you’ve got a complex problem, and understanding progression is about as complicated as it gets in multiple sclerosis,” Professor Thompson said in an interview. The Alliance’s goals are to better understand the disease in order to identify and test treatments as well as develop therapies to manage symptoms.
 
Stephen L. Hauser, MD (UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences) wrote in support of Professor Thompson that he “has emerged as the ‘go-to’ global spokesperson and advocate for this problem, and has organized the marshaling of resources, scientific and clinical teams, and patient support groups to align in a fight against progressive MS.”
 
Pioneering symptom-related outcome measures: Professor Thompson was involved in developing measures for mobility, spasticity (stiff muscles), cervical dystonia (involuntarily contraction of the neck muscles), ataxia (loss of muscle control), pain, and impact of disability. This work led to a new impairment/disability scale, the widely used MS Functional Composite.
 
Putting people with MS at the heart of both his research and clinical work: Professor Thompson is known for including those with MS as true partners in his work. Recently, for example, he co-organized an MS Research Day in London for people with MS and caregivers to explain current progress in MS research, facilitate discussions with researchers, and answer questions. He is working on a project to train people with MS to engage with health-care teams about MS-related research and clinical practice. He also provides classes for the newly diagnosed and their families, which has led to patients reviewing materials, teaching staff, and even contributing to academic literature. The MS Society [of the U.K.] now involves people affected by MS as members of the review and grant award panel, and he was involved in providing the necessary support and education to facilitate this initiative.
 
Evaluating cannabinoids – chemical compounds found in cannabis – for treating spasticity in MS: Multiple sclerosis is associated with muscle stiffness, spasms, pain, and tremor. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabinoids could help these symptoms. A study of 630 people at 33 MS centers in the U.K., with Professor Thompson one of the lead researchers, found that while cannabinoids did not objectively help their spasticity, the trial subjects’ mobility and their opinion that their pain had improved suggested that cannabinoids might be beneficial to people with MS.
 
Sharing Knowledge: Professor Thompson has written more than 500 original, highly cited papers, 13 books and 40 chapters, more than 100 editorials and other letters, and several videos and podcasts. He edited a short textbook on MS for general practitioners, is chief editor of a textbook on multiple sclerosis, an editor of MS: The Guide to Treatment and Management, and editor-in-chief of the influential Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
 
Professor Thompson has volunteered his expertise in many ways, including serving as chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation for ten years. Through the British Academy of Medical Sciences and as Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences, Professor Thompson also mentors many young academics, researchers, doctors, and administrators. He has delivered dozens of lectures on various aspects of multiple sclerosis in international courses and workshops to researchers, physicians, nurses, therapists, and patient groups. He takes an active role in teaching neurology to both postgraduate and undergraduate students.
 
About the Prize: The $15,000 Dystel Prize is given jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology, and is funded through the Society’s John Dystel Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund. The late Society National Board member Oscar Dystel and his late wife Marion established this fund in 1994 in honor of their son John Jay Dystel, an attorney whose promising career was cut short by progressive disability from MS. (John died of complications of the disease in June 2003.) Previous winners of the Prize are Drs. Donald Paty (1995), Cedric Raine (1996), John Kurtzke (1997), Henry McFarland (1998), W. Ian McDonald (1999), Kenneth Johnson (2000), John Prineas (2001), Stephen Waxman (2002), Bruce Trapp (2003), Lawrence Steinman (2004), Jack Antel (2005), William Sibley (2006), Howard Weiner (2007), Stephen Hauser (2008), David Miller (2009), David Hafler (2010), Brian Weinshenker (2011), Richard Ransohoff (2012), George Ebers (2013), Barry Arnason (2014), Alastair Compston (2015), Claudia Lucchinetti (2016). Read more about other Dystel Prize winners.
 
Biography: Alan J. Thompson, MD, FMedSci, FRCP, FRCPI, is Dean, University College London (UCL) Faculty of Brain Sciences; Garfield Weston Professor of Clinical Neurology and Neurorehabilitation at the UCL Institute of Neurology; Chair of the Neuroscience Program at the UCL Partners Academic Health Science Center; Senior Investigator and Faculty Member, NIHR (National Institute for Health Research); and Honorary Consultant Neurologist, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), London. He studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and trained in neurology at St Vincent’s/Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, The Royal London Hospital, and in neurology and neurorehabilitation at NHNN in London. He established the neurorehabilitation service at NHNN, and was NHNN Clinical Director from 2003 to 2007. He was chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation from 2005 to 2015. He chairs the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Progressive Multiple Sclerosis Alliance, and is a member of the National MS Society’s Research Programs Advisory Committee.

Prof. Thompson holds an honorary doctorate from Hasselt University, Belgium, for his work in neurorehabilitation, and is on the board or member of task forces and work groups of many organizations that support MS and neurological research, including the World Health Organization. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

Share