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Cutting Edge Genomic MS Research Earns Philip De Jager, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard, the 2014 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research

October 23, 2014

-- Leads Large-Scale Genetics Study Tackling Critical Questions with Goal of Developing Personalized Treatments and Prevention of MS

Watch a video with Dr. Philip De Jager - MS Researcher

Philip L. De Jager, MD, PhD, Neurologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, is the 2014 recipient of the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research, an international award established in 2013 to drive progress in multiple sclerosis (MS) research. Dr. De Jager, a clinician and a researcher, was selected for his work in applying powerful analytic approaches to better understand how genes and the environment interact with the goal of developing personalized treatments for MS and, ultimately, disease prevention. 

Dr. De Jager is a founding member of the International MS Genetics Consortium (IMSGC) and has played a key role in nearly every major gene discovery and advancement over the past decade. Dr. De Jager led the meta-analysis of genome scans that the Consortium published in 2009, which at the time, was a novel method in human genetics, and one of the first instances in which this powerful analytic approach was deployed for any human disease. This work has culminated in the creation of the new MS Genomic Map that will be released in 2015 by the IMSGC.

He is continuing his work through the International MS Genetics Consortium to create a definitive genetic map of MS susceptibility. He is using the findings from this map to understand the functional consequences of MS genetic risk factors to create potential personalized approaches to predict, treat and ultimately prevent MS.

Dr. De Jager has implemented several novel resources for the MS community, including the PhenoGenetic project with over 1,800 healthy individuals and the Genes & Environment in MS (GEMS) project that recruited over 3,000 MS family members in the last three years. These and other long-term studies will attempt to answer questions that people affected by MS need to know, including why some people develop MS and others don’t, why certain people respond differently to medications and treatments, and why some people’s MS progresses faster than others.

“Overall, I see two compelling and complementary projects,” Dr. De Jager explained. “First is to understand a person’s trajectory from not having MS to their diagnosis.  Here, identifying a treatment for the prevention of MS is a key goal of our studies, but it requires a complementary approach to identify the individuals at highest risk of developing the disease since most family members do not develop MS.”  Dr. De Jager added, “The second project is to gather enough data on a single, large set of MS patients to set the stage for an impactful discovery effort to understand MS-related neurodegeneration.”  Here, he has creatively used technology to enhance patient engagement through the use of patient-powered web platforms, electronic health records and smartphone-based tools to better characterize MS participants in these studies.

“We’re thrilled to present the 2014 Barancik Prize to Dr. De Jager for his visionary approach towards understanding the genetic architecture of MS,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief  Advocacy, Services and Research Officer at the National MS Society. “Dr. De Jager has leveraged his deep understanding of the clinical context of MS with his background in molecular genetics and immunology, to design new ways of approaching and answering challenging MS questions.”

Dr. De Jager recently presented the latest research from the Consortium at ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS*, the world’s largest scientific MS conference. The genetic study involves over 80,000 subjects and is funded by the National MS Society.  Building on previous studies, it brings the total number of identified gene variants related to MS risk to at least 159.  These findings set the stage for identifying the roles of specific immune cells and the brain in MS susceptibility, and may lead to new approaches to treating the disease.

Dr. De Jager is committed to pursuing critical questions in clinical MS research.  This leads him to select the best tools of basic molecular research and advanced human biometric phenotyping to examine how environmental influences and one’s own genes interact.  This information, when analyzed with advanced bioinformatics, will provide the most effective response to an MS challenge and will contribute to improving the lives of both his patients and that of their caregivers.

Biographical Sketch - Dr. Philip De Jager
Philip L. De Jager, MD, PhD, is the Steven R. and Kathleen P. Haley Distinguished Chair for the Neurosciences at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and is an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. He is the director for basic and translational research at the Institute for the Neurosciences at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is an associate member of the Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He continues to practice clinical neurology, seeing patients within the Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center that is affiliated with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. 

In 2008, Dr. De Jager received the prestigious Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Award from the National MS Society, which was a catalyst that enabled him to develop several innovative, cutting-edge projects.  Over the years, his work has evolved to pursue an integrated approach to MS that includes projects investigating other neurodegenerative diseases and healthy aging to develop a comprehensive understanding of the genomic, epigenomic, and neuroimmunologic architecture of how the brain responds to different challenges and how this ability changes as we age.

Dr. De Jager received his BS (summa cum laude) in molecular biophysics & biochemistry and French literature from Yale University. He received his Ph.D. in neurogenetics from The Rockefeller University and his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College. He also completed an MMSc program in clinical investigation at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In the clinical sphere, he completed his neurology training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital before pursuing subspecialty training in neuroimmunology, also at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and in human genetics at the Broad Institute.  

About the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research
The Prize seeks to recognize and encourage exceptional innovation and originality in scientific research relevant to multiple sclerosis, with emphasis on impact and potential of the research to lead to pathways for the treatment and cure for MS, and scientific accomplishments that merit recognition as a future leader in MS research. The international prize is made possible by the generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik SO Foundation, and is administered through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 

Any investigator(s) active in MS research is eligible for the Barancik prize, and the nominee(s) may be from any institution or organization—public or private, government, as well as commercial entities. Nominees may also be at any stage of their professional career in MS research. Nominations for the 2015 Barancik Prize will be accepted from November 1, 2014 until January 31, 2015. Read more about the Barancik Prize.

*ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS – Americas Committee for Treatment and Research In MS / European Committee for Treatment and Research In MS

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.

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