Dec 02, 2008
The first-ever Tykeson Fellows Conference on MS was indeed a meeting of the minds -- young scientists beginning their careers in MS research, established investigators sharing their expertise, and – because it was held in conjunction with the National MS Society’s 2008 National Conference – the hopes and purpose brought to the table by people with MS.
The fellows conference was convened by the Society and launched by a generous contribution from Mr. Donald Tykeson, active volunteer and Honorary Life Director of the Society’s National Board of Directors, and supported by other donations.* “History shows that scientific breakthroughs often come from new thinking, fresh ideas, and young people,” said Mr. Tykeson, welcoming the fellows at an opening reception. “With that in mind, what could be better than encouraging young scientists ready to embark on careers in biomedical research to focus on the final path of finding the way to stop MS cold.”
The conference was designed to promote the sharing of research information among the NMSS fellows and faculty awardees, develop a sense of community among our investigators,
stimulate new research ideas, and strengthen the commitment to MS research. Participants included not only young people who hold current research and clinical fellowships from the National MS Society, but also research fellows of the Canadian MS Society and 10 pre-doctoral students focusing on MS.
The program included 21 talks by fellows, alongside presentations from more seasoned investigators, including a keynote address by noted MS investigator Lawrence Steinman, MD, of Stanford University. The central theme was, “Which is first in MS: inflammation or loss of myelin/axons?” Presenters analyzed the development of MS – and the roles played by genes, immune messenger proteins, and other cells and molecules, and talked about strategies to stop the immune attacks against the nerve-insulating myelin and other damage to central nervous system tissues, and to replace cells lost in the course of disease. Here are just a few samples of this fine work:
• Yueting Zhang, PhD (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York), whose fellowship is funded by the Society’s New York City Chapter through the Martin S. Davis Research Fellowship Endowment, presented findings from a team led by her mentor Gareth John, VetMB, PhD, on immune messenger protein interleukin-11. The team has found that this protein promotes the survival and maturation of myelin-making cells, leading to increases in myelin formation in tissue samples from people with MS. These findings may help to develop strategies for making new myelin in people with MS.
• Philip L. De Jager, MD, PhD (Brigham & Women’s Hospital) reported on a study by his team stemming from the work of the International MS Genetic Consortium. They found that CD58, a gene associated with MS susceptibility, appears to contain genetic variations relevant to inflammation as well as nerve degeneration, but these are completely separate, indicating that they may be genetically distinct processes. Dr. De Jager is a Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar, a 5-year award offered to those promising individuals whose careers are just beginning as independent investigators in MS.
• Ellen Mowry, MD (University of California, San Francisco) is a Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellow, training to conduct MS clinical trials. Dr. Mowry is seeking to determine whether aspects of the initial myelin-damaging event that leads to MS can predict disease course. Her team’s results show that someone whose initial event is severe is at greater risk for more events and worse recovery. Such findings are crucial to resolving the unpredictability of MS.
Throughout the presentations, senior scientists offered advice and avenues for future research.
At a poster session funded by the MS Society of Canada’s endMS Research and Training Network, fellows had further opportunities to network with each other and discuss common goals as they viewed 47 posters from colleagues. “I’m new to the field of MS, and I’m gratified to see how collaborative everyone is,” noted Daniel C. Tanner, PhD, a fellow at the University of Rochester, NY.
The poster session featured early findings from the National MS Society’s first Mentor-Based Postdoctoral Fellowship in Rehabilitation Research, which trains young clinician scientists to conduct MS-specific rehabilitation research. In one poster, James F. Sumowski, PhD (Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research & Education Center, West Orange, NJ) reported on efforts to help people cope with cognitive problems associated with MS. His findings show that “spaced retrieval” – allowing for gaps between study periods – may be a useful memory strategy for people with MS.
Joint events with the Society’s National Conference were a powerful reminder of the purpose of MS research. “You can read about MS in medical papers,” said fellow Jennifer Kanter, PhD (Harvard University, Boston), who spoke at one such event about her experiences as the daughter of a father with MS, and as a scientist searching for the cure. “But what you learn from talking to someone with the disease is so much more real.” Dr. Kanter encouraged her colleagues to participate in the Society’s WalkMS and BikeMS events; she herself participates in the 50-mile Challenge Walk MS with her mother and sister. “If you want to feel the happiness that you get when an experiment goes well, go to a National MS Society event – you’ll feel it every time!”
“This first-ever Tykeson Fellows Conference was a resounding success,” said Patricia O’Looney, PhD, Vice President of Biomedical Research at the Society and key member of the planning committee. “It motivated young MS researchers and fostered collaborations that will help shore up their dedication to helping us move closer to a cure.”
“It was great to meet so many people who have a common passion,” added Astrid Cardona, PhD, a Career Transition Fellow at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. “How could we fail with all those great people behind us!” This tradition will continue at the 2010 Tykeson Fellows Conference, which will be held in conjunction with the joint annual meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers and the American Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ACTRIMS).
*Additional support for the Tykeson Fellows Conference was provided by the Wisconsin Chapter of the National MS Society, Avanir Pharmaceuticals, Biogen Idec, and Genentech.