These Innovative Investigators from the International MS Visual Consortium are Driving Novel Research Using OCT Technology to Advance MS Knowledge and Treatment
The collaborative team of Drs. Laura Balcer, Peter Calabresi and Elliot Frohman have been selected as the winners of the 2015 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research. This team of physician-scientists have worked together for almost 10 years to produce novel, ground-breaking and impactful research about the anatomy and biology of the retina and other structures of the eye in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In their more than 50 publications, the team has literally “written the book” when it comes to applying optical coherence tomography (OCT), a common and easy-to-use eye scanning technique, to study MS.
Thanks in large part to this team’s efforts, OCT has transitioned from a tool for ophthalmologists who treat glaucoma patients to a mainstream tool used to study disease mechanisms underlying MS in particular, but new evolving research suggests that such observations may apply to neurodegenerative disorders in general. Research led by this group has shown that OCT can identify unsuspected damage in nerve fibers at the back of the eye, and that this damage echoes more global damage in the brain during the course of MS, making it an invaluable tool for measuring the success of treatments in the clinic and during clinical trials of new therapies. The group has also related different types of nerve fiber damage in the eye to the loss of visual acuity and vision-related quality of life scores.
This trio of researchers leading the International MS Visual Consortium has established OCT as an accessible and critical tool in clinical care and clinical trials, thereby developing a new biomarker of disease pathogenesis. Numerous trials of potential disease-modifying therapies now incorporate OCT measurement into outcomes, and ongoing and new studies of novel neuroprotection agents have highlighted the use of OCT as a robust “surrogate” or indirect measure of nerve fiber health and damage.
The researchers have also demonstrated leadership in proving to the research world the value of selfless collaboration. Introduced by Dr. Steven Galetta, currently the Philip K. Moskowitz Professor and Chair of Neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center, this team entered into an open collaboration that sets the bar for joint research efforts. Even within what remains a highly competitive environment for research globally, data sets are shared openly by the group, protocols are exchanged, funding is shared, and papers are written by the principal investigators and their respective teams. The result has been one of the strongest databases in MS history, including longitudinal data, a robust publication record and, perhaps most importantly, a legacy of enthusiastic trainees who love MS research.
“We’re thrilled to present the 2015 Barancik Prize to Drs. Balcer, Calabresi and Frohman,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer at the National MS Society. “This team has used innovative research on the eye to open up a window to brain health and damage, making it possible to apply widely available tools to track clinical care and clinical trial outcomes in people with MS, while offering novel insights into pathology of the disease.”
“ Receiving the Barancik Prize is a great day for team science,” advises Dr. Laura Balcer, Professor of Neurology, Population Health and Ophthalmology at New York University School of Medicine “and it means even more in that it recognizes the group for a collaboration we all love because each of us are inspired by our patients.”
“I am very optimistic about the future, but I’d like to see things happen more quickly, “ reports Dr. Peter Calabresi Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “This is one of the reasons I am so honored and humbled to have earned the Barancik Prize and love the fact that we won it as a team, because that really symbolizes the right approach to science today, which is collaboration.”
“Fundamentally, science has been principally driven by competition,” shares Dr. Elliot Frohman, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics and Ophthalmology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “I believe the collaborative work our group has done across our three centers, now expanding into 35 centers around the world, recognizes an iconic moment in science. The winning of the Barancik Prize, I believe, is a validation of the importance of the collaborative work our group is doing in the field of MS and a recognition of that iconic change in doing scientific research.”
Laura Balcer, MD, MSCE is a Professor of Neurology, Population Health and Ophthalmology at the New York University School of Medicine, and Vice Chair of Neurology at the NYU Langone Medical Center. She received her MD from Johns Hopkins University and has a MS in clinical epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania. She did a residency in neurology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuro-Ophthalmology at U Penn’s Department of Neurology and Scheie Eye Institute. Dr. Balcer serves as a peer reviewer for the National MS Society.
Peter Calabresi, MD, is Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and is Director of the Division of Neuroimmunology as well as Director of the MS Center there. He received his MD from Brown University School of Medicine and did a residency in internal medicine and neurology at the University of Rochester. He was a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroimmunology at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. He currently serves as chair of the National MS Society’s Clinical and Translational Research Committee.
Elliot Frohman, MD, PhD, FAAN, FANA is Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics and Ophthalmology. He is a Distinguished Teaching Professor. He holds the Kenney- Marie Dixon Pickens Distinguished Professor in MS Research and the Irene Wadel & Robert Atha Distinguished Chair in Neurology. He is Director, MS & Neuroimmunology Program; Director Clinical Center for MS; Director, National MS Treatment Training Program (in collaboration with the National MS Society) at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine. Dr. received his PhD in molecular immunology and MD from the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Frohman was Resident and Chief Resident at Johns Hopkins Neurology Residency and then Fellow in Neurophysiology and Ocular Motor Control also at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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 2016 Barancik Prize will be accepted from November 1, 2015 until January 31, 2016. More information is available here.