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Breakthrough MS Quarterly Update

Fall 2017


In this article

Tykeson’s Lasting Legacy in MS Research

Late communications magnate Don Tykeson called multiple sclerosis his “old friend.” In fact, he attributed his business success to his MS diagnosis. Don Tykeson was 30 years old when he learned that his MS might put him in a wheelchair and decided to take control over his young family’s future by becoming a business owner. Don transformed his original $30,000 investment in a struggling Oregon TV station into a multi-million dollar enterprise. This effort launched his many future professional and philanthropic endeavors, including the Society’s premier forum for young MS researchers, The Tykeson Fellows Conference.

Up until his recent passing in July, Tykeson and his family provided generous support to the Society. Over the past decade, Tykeson helped to make this one-of-a-kind conference possible, leaving an indelible mark on the MS research community. This November, the sixth Tykeson Fellows Conference will be held in conjunction with the Society’s Leadership Conference.  The biennial fellows conference is recognized internationally by the scientific community as an innovative forum for facilitating learning and collaboration among MS research fellows supported by the National MS Society. The participating young researchers present their latest scientific discoveries, learn from their peers and renowned senior scientists, explore opportunities for collaborative partnerships, and gain insights on career development to facilitate access to faculty positions and further MS research funding opportunities.

Most uniquely, the connection between the Tykeson Conference and the Society’s Leadership Conference provides fellows the opportunity to interact directly with people living with MS, leadership volunteers and staff. Through these personal exchanges, fellows gain a better understanding of the challenges people affected by MS face and the power of the MS movement. They leave inspired to further their careers in MS research and be part of important work that changes lives. 

In fact, a recent Society survey and published research findings reveal that our fellows have had a significant impact on the field of MS and have directly improved the lives of people living with this disease. The Society fellowship program, coupled with the Tykeson Conference, provides an excellent experience that increases fellows’ enthusiasm for MS research, increases their employment prospects and ability to win follow-on funding. The many fellows that have continued to conduct MS research throughout their careers are the ones advancing today’s MS research breakthroughs and training the next generation of researchers.

“My father was big-hearted man who was committed to making a difference,” Tykeson’s daughter Amy said. “He understood that we have a short time on this earth, and it is incumbent on us to step up and do what we can.”

As a family that experienced the challenges of MS for over 50 years, the Tykesons have been strong and visible leaders in the MS movement and generous supporters of MS research. Their support of the career development of promising MS scientists through the Tykeson Fellows Conference has played an essential role in changing the lives of the millions of people affected by MS now and into the future. Following the upcoming conference in November, the Tykeson family will begin to pass the torch to the next set of individuals ready to establish their own legacy in MS research.

Your legacy has the potential to impact millions of lives. Connect with the Society to learn more about how you can expand the pipeline of promising researchers advancing MS breakthroughs. 

Ensuring the Best MS Workforce

Critical breakthroughs are made every day by the talented individuals in the MS workforce: physicians and healthcare providers who work tirelessly to provide the highest quality care to people living with MS; researchers relentlessly pursuing the next research breakthrough that will change the world for people with MS.
To ensure a strong pipeline of talent to expand and sustain the MS workforce, the Society invests in recruiting and supporting the best and brightest, funding their early careers and investing in their long-term success.
To promote access to high quality healthcare for everyone living with MS, the Society strives to reach healthcare providers early in their careers through mentorships, fellowships and other learning opportunities, helping them better understand MS and the needs of people with MS so they can provide better care. On an ongoing basis, MS healthcare providers look to us as a vital source for the latest, need-to-know information about MS care and treatments, which are provided through a robust online library of resources, including white papers and peer-reviewed articles. Through a myriad of ways, we are there for MS healthcare providers throughout their careers.
Over the past decades, the more than 900 MS researchers who received support from the National MS Society have driven remarkable progress to uncover answers and deliver life-changing solutions to people with MS.  To attract promising young investigators to the field of MS research and cement their commitment to MS, we offer a full spectrum of research training programs and early career support, advancing expertise in areas such as basic and translational research, clinical trials, rehabilitation research and more.

It takes all of us together to support the best and brightest experts in the field of MS healthcare and research to ensure people with MS have access to the treatments, solutions, and care they need to live their best lives. Your gift to Breakthrough MS will help us continue to fuel a growing pipeline of professionals who do the important work of changing the world for people with MS. Thank you for everything you do.

Yours truly,

Cyndi Zagieboylo, President & CEO
Cyndi Zagieboylo
Cyndi Zagieboylo
President & CEO

Enhancing the MS Healthcare Workforce

People with MS need access to the most effective treatments and high-quality care to navigate the challenges of MS and live their best lives. Access to high quality healthcare for everyone living with MS is threatened by the rising cost of medications, the shifting insurance landscape and limited availability of physicians who specialize in MS. These factors make it extremely difficult for people with MS to find healthcare providers with expertise in the sub-specialties of MS care and to affordably get the care and treatments they need to live their best lives.

One of the ways that the National MS Society addresses healthcare access challenges is by supporting the MS clinician workforce.

In order to attract individuals to MS care, the Society offers mentorship programs to medical students, scholarships for physical therapy doctoral students, and information resources through our website to those interested in pursuing a career in MS.

As physicians pursue their postdoctoral focus, the Society offers clinical fellowships to both institutions and students to help create natural mentorships and exposure to multi-disciplinary care, essentially to meeting the complex needs of people with MS. 

The Society invests resources, time and funds into ensuring clinicians have the latest resources, robust training opportunities, and more, to ensure they are best equipped to care for people with MS. 

Removing barriers to quality healthcare and expanding the size and reach of the MS clinical workforce requires annual support of $3 million to advance Society activities such as clinical care mentorships and fellowships, awards to support MS clinical training centers of excellence, and other innovative clinical training and resource initiatives.

Society-Supported Researcher and Past Fellow Uncovers Factors of MS Risk in Children

New research, funded in part by the National MS Society and led by a former Society research fellow, found that being overweight and having low blood levels of vitamin D increase the risk for children to develop pediatric-onset MS. In this study, scientists from several institutions used “genetic risk scores” -- which are based on DNA information -- to confirm these links.

After accounting for other MS risk factors, the scientists found the effects of excess body weight and low vitamin D were more pronounced in children than in adults. In addition, while previous studies suggested that the increased risk of MS associated with excess weight is due to lower vitamin D levels commonly seen in obese individuals, the new findings suggest that both obesity and vitamin D deficiency independently contribute to MS risk.

While it’s not clear what sets off MS in children, researchers wonder if the same triggers that affect adult-onset MS play a similar role in kids. The results of this research add to the growing evidence for the role of genetic and environmental factors in susceptibility to childhood-onset MS. Knowing that both low vitamin D levels and obesity are risk factors has potential implications for preventing MS in children and adults.

The lead investigator on the study, Lisa F. Barcellos, PhD, MPH, is one of over 900 MS experts who received early career support through a Society postdoctoral fellowship. The findings of researchers like Barcellos and other former Society fellows have contributed to major MS research breakthroughs. In fact, the Society has provided early career support and funding to nearly every recognized MS expert. To sustain a pipeline of talented, passionate MS researchers who will fuel the next critical breakthroughs, the Society attracts and trains promising young investigators so they will establish life-long careers filled with scientific discoveries and MS progress.

Through your critical support of these fellowships and other research training opportunities together we will catapult the careers of young MS research talent and fuel the work of those investigators on the verge of MS research breakthroughs like this one.

With your critical support, the Society invests $8 million annually to help catapult the careers of young MS research talent and fuel the careers of those investigators on the verge of transformative breakthroughs.  


© 2023 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.