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Consortium of MS Centers Annual Meeting Focuses on Real World Challenges and Solutions for People with MS

June 16, 2020

Nearly 3,000 MS healthcare providers and researchers participated in the online 34th Annual Meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers (CMSC) to share findings and learn the latest about diagnosing and treating MS, and to hear research updates. The meeting also focused on solutions that help people with MS to live their best lives. Originally planned as an in-person meeting in Orlando, FL, the CMSC quickly pivoted to make sure that this valuable information was available to the MS healthcare community in a virtual format.
Many studies showed continued benefits of available therapies and longer-term safety information, as well as advances in basic laboratory studies. Below are highlights that focus on presentations related to understanding and managing symptoms to improve quality of life. Studies presented are considered preliminary until they are published in peer-reviewed journals. Links are provided to the presentations or to the pdf file that compiles all of the meeting’s scientific summaries (abstracts).
Deal with Depression: Depression remains underdiagnosed and undertreated in people with MS, said Anthony Feinstein, MPhil, PhD, FRCP (University of Toronto), based on a recent study. “Thirty-five percent of patients who had thought about suicide had received no treatment for their underlying mental difficulties,” he said. Dr. Feinstein emphasized that treatments are available, including medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be delivered by telephone or computer. He believes that future treatment will be revolutionized by noninvasive brain stimulation. “My take-home message to you is a very clear one,” he concluded, addressing MS healthcare providers. “Screen your patients for depression so that you do not miss the diagnosis and miss a potentially treatable disorder.” View the sides of this presentation View the video of this presentation
Find strategies for reducing depression
Biomarkers and exercise: Does exercise impact what is going on in the brain and spinal cord? Definitely, said Patricia Bobryk, MHS, PT, MSCS, ATP (University of Colorado). Exercise  increases a factor that promotes the survival and growth of brain cells (“BDNF”);  reduces levels of a molecule that increases entry of immune system attackers into the brain (“MMP-2”); increases brain connectivity, that is, how nerve cells communicate with each other; and at least in one study, increases thickness of brain tissue. “Exercise, coupled with everything else that we are doing, is an important piece,” she concluded. “The impact is so great, we should be thinking of it as a prescription.” View the slides of this presentation View the video of this presentation
New Exercise guidelines for all people with MS.
Increasing Coping Skills for African American Women with MS: Whitney McLaughlin, PhD (St. Bonaventure University) developed  “Brain-Based Education and Wellness” (BE WELL), an 8-week program that combines brain health information with training on coping skills. The team tested whether BE WELL could improve coping flexibility in African American women with MS. Coping flexibility is the ability to discard a coping strategy that is not working, and implement a new coping strategy. The program had positive effects for all three participants in this small study. Dr. McLaughlin noted the importance of providing “culturally competent care.” “Healthcare providers must understand how the individual’s identity, culture and environment all impact the type and degree of stress they experience, as well as the coping resources and strategies they ultimately use,” she said. (Abstract #PSF09)
Tele-exercise in the COVID era: Tracy Fleming-Tracy, OT (Tanner Center for MS, Birmingham) described how a study comparing clinic- and home-based exercise programs in more than 800 people across three states has pivoted to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, this study was originally designed to be given remotely to meet the needs of people in rural areas. “We have people who come from all around the state to see us because they can’t find a therapist in their area,” she said. “But now, with the unprecedented time we are in, it’s even more imperative that we have this option.” The home-based version of the program is delivered through an app on a tablet that is mailed to participants. When clinic visits became impossible due to social distancing, the team mailed tablets to participants originally assigned to the in-person clinic group and provided virtual sessions with therapists.” Participants could modify the exercise if it was too difficult, or increase the difficulty if it was too easy. (Abstract #REH27)
This study is still recruiting in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Aerobic Fitness in the Older Set: Jessica Baird, PhD (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and colleagues recruited 20 people with MS over age 55 for a study to determine whether aerobic fitness would be associated with improved physical and cognitive function. Aerobic fitness is a measure of your body's ability to take oxygen from the atmosphere and use it to produce energy for your muscle cells. They separated people into low fitness and high fitness groups based on an initial assessment. Those with higher aerobic fitness had improved walking speed, walking endurance, and cognitive function. Aerobic fitness is modifiable by aerobic exercise training, conclude the authors, so the results suggest that participating in regular physical activity may help to offset the consequences of aging with MS. (Abstract #RHI05)
Addressing Abuse: Jeta Pol-Patil (Brigham & Women’s Hospital) and colleagues surveyed more than 800 women with MS about sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse experiences. Two hundred women completed the anonymous questionnaire, and of these, 76 (38%) reported having experienced some form of abuse. (The rate reported in the general female population is 29%). Forty (53%) women of those reporting abuse did not receive professional help in dealing with the aftermath. Those who were married or in a domestic partnership were more likely to report abuse. The low response rate to the survey may indicate discomfort with this difficult topic, notes the team, which is continuing to administer the survey to increase the reliability of these observations. (Abstract #PSF03)
Learn more about preventing abuse
Voice Treatment: Alice Estevo Dias, PhD (University of São Paulo) studied whether a voice treatment program that helps people with Parkinson’s Disease to improve vocal intensity (the ability to speak louder) could improve speech problems in people with MS. The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment targets the vocal chords, encouraging individuals to “think loud in order to speak loud.” The problems observed in this study of 34 people included slow articulation, pitch instability, and deficient loudness control. Administering the program twice a week for 8 weeks improved speech issues significantly. (Abstract REH03)
Learn more about addressing speech in MS
Browse the meeting’s presentations and abstracts

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. 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. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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