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Researchers Address MS Biomarkers, Symptoms and More at Virtual AAN 2020 Meeting

July 13, 2020

Although neurologists and researchers from around the world were not able to gather in person for the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, more than 1,500 presentations were made available online. Sessions focused on many MS topics including ways to track MS activity, progressive MS, and reversing symptoms.
Many studies showed continued benefits of available therapies and longer-term safety information, as well as advances in basic laboratory studies. Studies presented at meetings such as this are generally considered preliminary until they are published in peer-reviewed journals. Below are select science highlights. Browse presentations here, or follow links below to specific study abstracts.
Dystel Prize Awarded to innovative neuroscientist: Ian D. Duncan, BMVS, PhD, a neuroscientist and Professor of Neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was awarded the 2020 John Dystel Prize for MS Research for his groundbreaking research on myelin (the protective nerve coating that is damaged in MS). This prize is annually awarded at the AAN conference. Read more about his contributions and the Dystel Prize
Sense of Smell and MS: Alterations in a person’s sense of smell may be a common issue in MS and may represent a way to track underlying disease activity. In a study of 113 people with relapsing MS, Gabriel Bsteh, MD, PhD (Medical University Vienna) and colleagues tested whether smell sensitivity correlated with responses to treatment. When improvements in the ability to smell occurred in the first three months of starting disease-modifying treatment, and were maintained for 12 months, participants were not likely to experience a relapse for the duration of the 2-year study. If confirmed, sensitivity to odors could become an easily trackable marker of treatment response. View a summary of the presentation Read more about how smell and taste are affected by MS
Paying the price for MS Therapies: Bari Talente, JD (Executive Vice President of Advocacy. National MS Society) reported on an effort to understand the experiences that people living with MS have when accessing disease-modifying treatments, including the financial and emotional effects associated with the price of these medications. An electronic survey was sent to a sample of people with MS in July 2019; 578 people completed it. Seventy percent received financial assistance for their treatments, mostly from pharmaceutical companies, with 81% of them reporting they would face financial burdens without the assistance. Forty percent reported some stress or emotional impact due to high out-of-pocket costs and have adjusted their lifestyle to afford their medication. View a summary of this presentation Find out more about how the Society is working to Make MS Medications Accessible.
Puberty and relapse: Relapses increased with the onset of menstruation, in a study from the National MS Society-sponsored US Network of Pediatric MS Centers. Kristen Krysko, MD (University of California at San Francisco), and colleagues nationwide reviewed the records of 504 girls with MS from the network’s database. MS onset occurred before menstruation in 53 girls. Relapses increased during the onset of menstruation and decreased thereafter. The researchers urge healthcare providers to take this into consideration in the therapeutic approach to MS during menstruation onset. View this presentation
Measuring MS Pain:  Pain is a common and troublesome symptom experienced by people with MS. Sheila Steiner and colleagues at the University of Utah wanted to make sure they were fully capturing this symptom, so they developed a tool that utilized traditional scales that rate pain numerically (1 to 10) as well as pictorial representations. They used the new approach to capture information from 70 people with MS, and found that it revealed high levels of pain, and that medications used to control pain were not working well enough. They are continuing to use this tool to follow individuals in hopes of improving pain control. View a summary of this presentation
Mapping the Microbiome: Evidence is growing that alterations in the gut microbiome – which comprises billions of bacteria - play a role in MS disease activity. Zongqi Xia, MD, PhD (University of Pittsburgh) and colleagues examined genes and gut bacteria in people who had first-degree relatives with MS but did not have MS symptoms. Those who had more genes associated with MS risk also had a network of gut bacteria species found in people with MS. Finding evidence of these changes in people at higher risk for MS is an important addition to the MS/gut story.  View a summary of this presentation
A Marker of MS Progression? Jens Kuhle, MD (University of Basel) and colleagues looked at samples taken from 475 people with secondary progressive MS during a clinical trial testing Mayzent® (Siponimod, Novartis AG) to see if the protein known as GFAP would be associated with disease progression or response to treatment. GFAP is present in many types of nerve cells and is released when there is damage in the nervous system. The team found that GFAP levels correlated with measures of disability progression and disease activity on MRI scans, but not with relapses. GFAP levels decreased with treatment during the trial. With further study, this marker may help to predict MS progression.  View this presentation
Mental Health Care: Daniela Pimentel Maldonado, MD (University of Massachusetts) surveyed 2246 people with MS about mental health care, including 143 African Americans and 125 Hispanic Latinos. More than 80% of respondents believed that emotional problems were common and worsened their MS symptoms. Significantly more African Americans and Hispanic Latinos said they would seek mental health care if it was in the same location as their MS care. Significantly more African Americans expressed that they would prefer, trust, and feel better understood by a mental healthcare provider of the same race/ethnicity. Emotional changes are common in MS, and this study provides important information on how mental health care might be better accessed by all people with MS.  View this poster
Browse all presentations from the meeting here.

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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