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The Consortium of MS Centers Annual Meeting Focuses on Pathways to Stopping MS and Restoring Function and Quality of Life

June 15, 2023

More than 2,000 MS healthcare providers and researchers gathered for the 37th Annual Meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers (CMSC) in Aurora, Colorado, to share findings and learn the latest about diagnosing and treating MS, and to hear research updates. The meeting also focused on solutions that help people with MS to thrive. 

Many studies showed the continued benefits of available therapies and longer-term safety information. Below are highlights of presentations largely focused on understanding the effects of MS on individuals and communities and managing symptoms to improve quality of life. Generally studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until they are published in peer-reviewed journals.

Browse the meeting’s abstracts. If an abstract is available, a link is included below.

Listen to a RealTalk MS podcast from CMSC.

Giants of MS: CMSC and NeurologyLive® recognized Cynthia Zagieboylo, President and CEO of the National MS Society, as one of the 2023 Giants of Multiple Sclerosis® inductees. Giants of MS is an award that celebrates pioneers, innovators, and difference makers who have been selected by their peers for remarkable achievements in MS. Ms. Zagieboylo was recognized for Global Impact, for her efforts to bring about a world free of MS – as the leader of the Society, member of the MS International Federation, and founding leader of the International MS Progressive Alliance.

Novel immune regulation: Dr. Patrick Vermersch (Univ. Lille, Inserm, Lille, France), Dr. Gavin Giovannoni (Queen Mary University of London) and colleagues presented phase 2 clinical trial results of frexalimab (Sanofi), tested in 129 people with relapsing MS. Frexalimab is a new experimental approach to treating MS, as it inhibits the immune system protein CD40, preventing activation of multiple types of immune cells (T cells, B cells, macrophages) without depleting them. After 12 weeks of treatment, high and low doses reduced disease activity on MRI scans up to 89% more than inactive placebo. This was the primary outcome of the study. Most common adverse events were mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 or headache. An extension to the study continues, with all participants receiving high or low doses of frexalimab for another 26 weeks. (Abstract LB02)

Proactive physical therapy: Physical therapy is usually recommended for people with MS who experience declines in function. Monica Hendricksen, Dr. Dominique Kinnett-Hopkins and others (Northwestern University and University of Michigan) looked at the benefits of referring four people newly diagnosed with MS to “proactive” physical therapy, before significant declines are experienced. Participants received advice on exercise guidelines geared to their ability level, and established an exercise routine with support in goal setting and decision making. They communicated with the physical therapist after one and three months and reported progress at six months. One participant did not complete follow up due to pregnancy complications. The others reported regular participation in aerobic, strengthening, and flexibility exercises at levels that met or exceeded original recommendations. Two people had significant improvements in walking speed. The team is planning larger studies. (Abstract LB13)

Addressing aging: In a keynote lecture, Dr. Jennifer Graves (University of California, San Diego) talked about progressive MS as an “aging-related” disease. “By slowing or reversing the aging process, maybe we can ameliorate progressive MS,” she said. Biological aging is linked to disability in MS; this type of aging differs from chronological aging. For example, one marker of biological age is the length of telomeres, genetic material that protects chromosomes. Telomeres shorten as we age. Dr. Graves reviewed several strategies for combating biological aging, noting, “Exercise and physical activity are one of the best fountains of youth that we have.” Diet, in particular the Mediterranean Diet, has been shown to protect telomeres as well. Hear more from Dr. Graves in a RealTalk MS podcast on managing MS throughout the lifespan.

Better bladder control: Dr. Valerie Block and colleagues (UCSF) reported progress on their National MS Society-funded project in which they are assembling an at-home toolkit to address bladder dysfunction in people with MS. They engaged a group of people with MS and health experts to review 11 available devices. The team ranked these based on feasibility, perceived usefulness/ease of use, and impact. The top 2 devices are being validated in a pilot study. One device measures urine level via ultrasound, and the other guides pelvic floor exercises through use of an app. (Abstract DMX03) Watch a webinar about bladder dysfunction featuring Dr. Block.

New way to describe MS: Dr. Graves also presented progress on a new approach under development to how different types of MS are described. The goal is to move away from descriptions like relapsing-remitting, primary progressive, or secondary progressive MS. Instead, the future descriptions would be driven by a biological understanding of what drives any individual’s disease course, leading more personalized treatments that can stop MS in its tracks. Key to this process is input from ALL stakeholders. A survey disseminated to the professional community in late 2022 garnered 419 responses; 86% of respondents want the new framework to be easy to communicate to people with MS. (Abstract DMX05)  Further input was provided during a meeting of stakeholders at CMSC, including people with MS. Learn more about how this proposed new framework may affect you in the future, in a RealTalk MS podcast.

Mindfulness and MRI: Mindfulness is a form of meditation aimed at changing an individual’s perception; the goal is to reduce reactions that may worsen pain or emotional distress related to health-related changes. Dr. Christopher Hemond (University of Massachusetts) and colleagues looked at whether an 8-week program would show benefits for 23 people with MS, not only in their personal reports of symptoms, but also in underlying disease activity. People reported significant improvements in stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and loneliness. The researchers found a hint that mindfulness may even increase the tissue volume in a part of the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked to learning and memory. Further study in larger numbers of people is needed (Abstract IMG06). Learn more about mindfulness and other Pathways to Wellness in MS

Making diet studies count: How can dietary interventions help people with MS? Drs. Kathryn Fitzgerald (Johns Hopkins University) and Ilana Katz Sand (Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS) discussed that it is difficult to measure. Researchers often use questionnaires or interviews to assess food intake, but people may make mistakes in recalling the information, or may be self-conscious about food choices. “We need to think about how we measure immunomodulation and neuroprotection and repair in MS and apply these in dietary research.” They cited recent efforts in this area, including an intermittent fasting study that measured immune and metabolic changes to determine the diet’s effectiveness. Another option is looking at gut bacteria before and after a dietary intervention to see whether changes indicate any benefit. Learn more about diet in a webinar with Dr. Katz Sand

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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