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Nine Novel Research Projects Focus on Protecting the Nervous System, Spirituality and More

August 6, 2018

SUMMARY
  • The National MS Society has just committed funding for 9 high-risk pilot research grants to quickly test novel ideas. Additional pilot studies will be funded throughout the year as part of a comprehensive research program that is supporting over 320 new and ongoing research and training projects in 2018 alone.
  • These grants are designed to quickly answer novel questions, including: Can an oral ‘peptide’ protect the nervous system? Does religion/spirituality help people with MS to cope? How does cell ‘battery failure’ underly MS progression? What to do when children show possible signs of MS on MRI scans but have no symptoms? Do genes and a virus interact to trigger MS? Can a protein ‘instruct’ myelin-making cells to mature and form new myelin?
  • 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 established Research Priorities.
 
DETAILS
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. A recent survey of nearly 300 Society pilot grant recipients indicated that 90% agreed the funding was impactful to their research program.
The National MS Society has just committed more than $350,000 to fund 9 high-risk pilot grants to quickly answer novel questions. Additional pilot studies will be funded throughout the year as part of a comprehensive research program that is supporting over 320 new and ongoing research and training projects in 2018 alone.
Here are summaries of a few of the new pilot projects to which the Society has made commitments:
  • Protecting the Nervous System: David Naor, PhD (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel) and colleagues have found that administering a small synthetic product (called a “peptide”) inhibits MS-like disease in mice. In cells isolated in the lab, this peptide decreases activity of a protein involved with inflammation in the brain and spinal cord of mice with this disease. Now the team is gathering more data to confirm and expand these important findings, so that this peptide might be developed as a potential new treatment for protecting the nervous system from damage in people with MS.
  • Coping and Spirituality: Chung-Yi Chiu, PhD (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is conducting a survey among people with MS to examine the impacts of religion and spirituality to individuals’ experience with MS and their health behaviors, and how religion and spirituality add to other MS coping strategies. The results will be valuable for developing a spirituality-based program to help people with MS cope more effectively and improve their well-being.
  • Energy Crisis: Vanessa Morais, PhD (Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Lisbon, Portugal) is clarifying the connection between MS and abnormal function of the mitochondria. Mitochondria are like tiny batteries that supply power to cells, and they are crucial for maintaining a healthy brain’s structure and function. Some studies have suggested there may be defects in the ability of mitochondria to produce energy in people with MS, and have opened up the possibility that addressing mitochondrial malfunctions may help stop disease progression. The team is studying a group of people who are at risk for MS, or who have early MS, to understand the role of mitochondria and their influence on disease progression.
  • Early Hint of MS: Vikram Bhise, MD (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick) is studying children with evidence of MS-like damage on MRI brain scans, but who have no symptoms. This phenomenon is termed radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS) in adults, and many adults with RIS go on to develop definite MS. However, it is not clear if the same is true in children. This study seeks to identify variables that may predict the future development of MS. Information will be collected from the US Network of Pediatric MS Centers.
  • Exploring the Launch of MS: Ute-Christiane Meier, PhD (Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom) are exploring two gene-based factors that may play triggering roles in MS: a set of genes known as HLA-DR that direct immune interactions, and an ancient (and usually dormant) virus that is lodged in human genetic material, called MSRV. This team has shown molecular links between MSRV and HLA-DR, and now they are studying these links further in novel laboratory experiments. This research is expected to lead to a better understanding of the risk factors that launch the immune attack in MS.
  • Instructing Myelin Repair: David Martinelli, PhD (University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington) is studying a population of immature cells that exist in the brain and have potential to form new myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibers that is damaged in MS. This team has discovered that a protein called C1QL1 is made by the cells and is now testing the idea that this protein can instruct the cells to mature and form new myelin. Results from this study will contribute important new information on the basic science underlying brain repair 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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