- The National MS Society has just committed funding for 10 high-risk pilot research grants to quickly test novel ideas. Additional pilot studies will be funded throughout the year.
- The new pilot studies include interventions for fatigue and loneliness, transcranial stimulation to improve walking, and a strategy to alter the effects of gut bacteria as a potential treatment for MS.
- 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.
How does an investigator get that very first grant to test an innovative, cutting-edge research idea and get the first bit of data that will convince funders that the idea is worthwhile? The National MS Society has a pilot research program that addresses this important need. The Society just committed more than $400,000 to fund 10 high-risk pilot grants to quickly test novel ideas, including interventions for fatigue and loneliness, transcranial stimulation to improve walking, and a strategy to alter the effects of gut bacteria in MS-like disease in mice. Additional pilot projects will be funded throughout the year.
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 indicates that this program succeeds in bringing new ideas and new researchers to the field of MS research:
- 85% or respondents report their pilot was a new idea;
- 45% of investigators were outside of the MS field;
- 56% leveraged the pilot project to win larger grants;
- 90% agreed the funding was impactful to their research program.
Here are just a few of the new pilot projects to which the Society has made commitments:
•Pawan Kumar, PhD (State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY) will test molecules in mice that may help to regulate gut bacteria and the immune response in MS-like disease. The inflammatory immune response to gut bacteria has been thought to play a critical role in the development of MS. This and other ongoing studies of the role of the gut microbiome in MS study could pave the way for new probiotic strategies that alter gut bacteria to stop MS.
•Thorsten Rudroff, PhD (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO) will test whether stimulating parts of the brain – called neurostimulation -- can improve weakness on one side of the body. Weakness is experienced by many people with MS, and it is a significant cause of progressive worsening of walking ability. Transient direct current stimulation (tDCS, which low, direct current delivered via electrodes on the head) has been shown to enhance motor performance in people who experience strokes. This study will gather preliminary evidence for the use of tDCS to improve walking in people with MS.
•Bardia Nourbakhsh, MD (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD) will conduct a clinical trial testing whether ketamine, an anesthetic that affects glutamate signaling, can improve fatigue in 18 people with MS. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS, and there is preliminary evidence that the brain signaling chemical glutamate, which has an important role in the communication between nerve cells, may have a role in the generation of fatigue. The preliminary results from this pilot project may lead to larger studies and provide new insight into the cause and treatment of this disabling symptom of MS.
•Victoria Leavitt, PhD (Columbia University, New York, NY) will attempt to address feelings of loneliness in people with MS using "e-Support” – online, private, support groups developed by her team that can be joined by people with MS without leaving their homes. Support groups are an excellent resource for people who are lonely, but the logistics of getting to a support group can become a stressor in itself. With this pilot study Dr. Leavitt will also characterize benefits of support group membership to promote their use as a treatment component for people with MS.
Download a list of new pilot projects
Learn more about research funded by the National MS Society