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High-Risk Pilot Projects Explore Novel Ways to Stop MS, Track Brain Cells, Treat Fatigue, and Other Cutting-Edge Research

July 8, 2019

SUMMARY
  • The National MS Society has just committed funding for 10 new high-risk pilot research grants to quickly test novel ideas. Additional research studies will be funded throughout the year as part of a comprehensive research program that will support 340 new and ongoing research projects in 2019 alone focused on stopping MS, restoring what’s been lost, and ending MS forever.
  • Pilot grants are designed to provide preliminary answers to novel questions about MS, and determine if the ideas are worth pursuing, including: Can a simple sugar stop the immune attack in MS? Can new technology track changes to nerve cells as they occur? Can virtual reality reduce cognitive fatigue? What factors interfere with the ability of people with MS to manage their disease? Can taking an inactive placebo – knowingly – help to decrease fatigue? Does the response to Epstein-Barr Virus lead to the development of MS? Download a list of new pilot projects
  • The Pilot Research Grants program is one way that the Society maintains a diverse research portfolio that includes short- and long-term investments, balances risks and rewards, and funds research globally, in line with our Research Priorities and commitment to supporting pathways to a cure for MS.
DETAILS
The National MS Society has just committed more than $540,000 to fund 10 new high-risk pilot grants to quickly answer novel questions. Additional research studies will be funded throughout the year as part of a comprehensive research program that will support 340 new and ongoing research projects in 2019 alone focused on stopping MS, restoring what’s been lost, and ending MS forever.

Before investigators can get funding to test a cutting-edge research idea, they need to generate the first bit of data to prove their ideas are worth pursuing. Pilot grants allow researchers to gather preliminary data so they can apply for longer-term funding – or put the idea to rest. The grant provides one year of funding. This program is one way that the Society maintains a diverse research portfolio that includes short- and long-term investments, balances risks and rewards, and funds research globally.
Here are summaries of a few of the new pilot projects to which the Society has made commitments:
  • Can a simple sugar stop the immune attack? D-mannose is a simple sugar similar to glucose that is found in common foods, especially fruits (i.e. cranberries, apples). Findings from diseases other than MS hint that taking D-mannose may increase regulatory immune cells that can dampen immune attacks. Bogoljub Ciric, PhD (Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia) is now testing the capacity of D-mannose to suppress ongoing disease in two mouse models of MS. This pilot study will provide clues about whether this dietary supplement merits further testing in people.
  • Nerve Cells: Live! The injury MS can cause to nerve cells starts early and contributes to progressive neurological decline. Hod Dana, PhD (Cleveland Clinic) and colleagues are introducing a new technology that can record nerve cell activity as it happens. They have developed a fluorescent protein that changes its emitted light intensity whenever a nerve cell is active. By recording the fluorescence signal with a dedicated microscope, they can record cell activity over time. Using this method in lab models of MS, they expect to shed light on how MS affects nerve cells, and provide a platform to test potential new treatments for protecting nerve cells from damage and promoting tissue repair.
  • Virtual reality to energize the mind: People with MS can experience cognitive fatigue, a decline in mental performance after continuous mental activities over time. Some studies suggest that interacting with nature (for example, walking in the park or hiking) improves attention and can reduce cognitive fatigue. However, it can be difficult for some people with MS to get out in nature. Hala Darwish, PhD (American University of Beirut, Lebanon) is testing whether experiencing nature experience using virtual reality (computer technology that uses software and a headset to project images) improves cognitive fatigue in people with MS. The results may lead to the development of a cost-effective solution that is convenient for home use.
  • What stops self-management in MS? Self-management helps individuals with chronic health conditions to handle changes in their daily activities by teaching problem solving and coping skills, thus helping them become more active in their care. Knowing if certain symptoms, such as memory problems, are associated with reduced self-management skills can help clinicians identify people with MS who might need additional support. Elizabeth Gromisch, PhD (Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital, Hartford, CT) is evaluating 115 people with MS, looking at factors known to be associated with self-management in other chronic health conditions. The results can contribute to understanding what factors might need to be adjusted to optimize quality of life in MS.
  • A trial of placebo to reduce fatigue: Tapan Mehta, PhD (University of Alabama at Birmingham) is testing the ability of the placebo effect to reduce MS-related fatigue. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms in people with MS. A placebo (a capsule with no active ingredient) has been shown in many studies to reduce various symptoms, including irritable bowel symptoms, back pain, and migraine headache pain. This team is testing whether receiving placebo pills, along with a discussion of why they might work, can reduce fatigue in people with MS compared to those who do not receive placebo pills. This study could provide a novel approach to treating MS fatigue.
  • Epstein-Barr virus: Does the response trigger MS? Liisa Selin, MD, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) is examining features of immune cell responses to the Epstein-Barr virus in blood samples collected from people with relapsing-remitting MS, secondary-progressive MS, and people without MS. Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (which can cause mononucleosis) has long been suspected as a possible trigger for MS. Immune cell responses to the Epstein-Barr virus differ between people with MS and people without MS, which can lead to poor control of the virus. Improved understanding of these immune cell responses may lead to ways to stop or prevent MS. 
Recent Pilot Project Results –
Addressing sleep disorders: Catherine Siengsukon, PhD (University of Kansas) and colleagues asked whether a cognitive behavior intervention (involving sleep education, meditation, and cognitive therapy for negative sleep beliefs) would reduce insomnia and fatigue, compared to a brief sleep education program. Both approaches reduced insomnia and fatigue, but the cognitive therapy had a more powerful impact. Dr. Siengsukon reported the results of this pilot project at the 2019 meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers. She has leveraged these results to gain funding from the National Institutes of Health to determine whether a web-based cognitive behavior intervention can reduce insomnia in people with MS.  

Read More:
Download a list of new pilot projects
Learn more about research funded by the National MS Society

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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