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Reingold Award winner explores the microbiome in MS


Dr. Baranzini (left) accepting the Reingold Award from the Society’s Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer, Dr. Timothy Coetzee

Dr. Sergio Baranzini from the University of California at San Francisco receives this year’s Stephen C. Reingold Award for the Society’s most outstanding research proposal. His proposal earned his team a Society Collaborative MS Center Award to investigate the microbiome – the community of bacteria that live in the body and support healthy function – for its potential impact on MS.

Dr. Baranzini, you’ve played a key role identifying the 159 genetic variants linked to MS through your work with the International MS Genetics Consortium. What prompted this shift in focus to the micro biome?
It is widely accepted that susceptibility to MS is part genetic, and part environmental, so I actually see investigation into the gut microbiome as the perfect complement to our gene mapping studies. The microbiome is a good proxy for the environment because it is modified by diet and other environmental variables, which themselves are difficult to measure.

How was the microbiome consortium formed and what are you trying to accomplish?
The Society’s Collaborative MS Center award has enabled a group of talented individuals from a wide range of disciplines to come together to tackle this work. Although we come from somewhat different backgrounds, we agree that this is the right time to rigorously examine the role of commensal gut bacteria in the susceptibility and progression of MS because recent technological advances have allowed us to measure the microbiome very precisely and in a reproducible manner.

How far along would you say we are in microbiome research in MS?
Given how new this area of research is, it is fair to say that there is an enormous amount of work ahead of us. However, we can capitalize on existing technologies like DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to help us move quickly. There’s so much that we don’t know and the microbiome consortium is working to answer some fundamental questions about the role that gut bacteria may play in MS. Gathering more information on this relationship and confirming those results will be necessary before possible interventions to alter one’s microbiome in the form of diets, supplements, probiotics, or a combination can be considered.

What is your vision for how this knowledge will be used to inform MS care and/or prevention? 
My vision is that one day we will be able to combine genetic and microbiome data for a given patient that doctors will use to prescribe a specific diet, probiotic/antibiotic, or any combination of the above, with or without traditional disease modifying therapies, to more effectively reduce the incidence, severity and progression of MS.


Achieving results

Last month I announced that the Society would be making $14.7 million in funding commitments to support 23 additional research projects and commercial partnerships aimed at stopping MS in its tracks, restoring lost function and ending MS forever. This brings our 2015 research investments to a record $53.4 million and continues our commitment to increase funding to accelerate vital research progress.

As we near the completion of our groundbreaking $250 million NOW Campaign – the largest MS research campaign in history– our growing investments have undoubtedly been key to the incredible research progress you find in each issue of the NOW Quarterly. But this progress is also due in large part to the thoughtful and strategic ways in which the Society directs and stewards the generous contributions of donors like you.

With the guidance and expertise of hundreds of MS research leaders, the Society surveys MS research activities taking place across the globe – identifying opportunities, sizing up the risks and remaining focused on investments that will have the most significant impact on the lives of people with MS. Our recent investments to convene experts around the microbiome in MS and to expand the Pediatric MS Center Network are clear examples of this strategic approach.

As you know, there is great urgency to find solutions for everyone living with MS. The National MS Society is the organization with the knowledge, track record and momentum to achieve results.

Your continued support of the NOW Campaign is critical to ensuring that we reach our $250 million goal by December 31st. Together we can continue to accelerate research breakthroughs that will change lives and end MS forever.

Yours truly,

Cyndi Zagieboylo, President & CEO

Cyndi Zagieboylo
President & CEO

Society supported studies uncover important leads

Promising research findings are rapidly increasing thanks to your support. Here’s a look at the encouraging results reported from two recent studies:

  • Researchers at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center report that decreases in “connectivity” (how parts of the brain interact with one another) in a certain area of the brain may underlie cognitive issues. The researchers believe that the diminished connections are likely the result of decreased white matter surrounding the neurons in the brain. This finding supports the development of additional strategies to address, stop or prevent cognitive challenges in MS.Learn more.
  • Collaborating researchers in the U.S. and Italy have uncovered a gene variant that appears to influence whether a person responds well to interferon beta, a commonly used therapy for relapsing forms of MS. More broadly, the gene may regulate immune activity in unexpected ways. This gene’s discovery may not only lead to new approaches to stopping inflammation and immune attacks in MS but it is likely to inform ways to identify the best therapy for an individual early in the disease course, otherwise known as a “personalized medicine” approach. Learn more.

Stay current with all promising MS research findings by visiting the Society’s website under Research News.

NOW momentum

The groundbreaking NOW MS Research Campaign has launched 779 new research projects including:

  • 25 commercial research partnerships aimed at overcoming barriers to commercial development to propel promising new therapies
  • 71 clinical trials to speed treatment solutions
  • 132 projects testing rehabilitation and wellness approaches
  • 137 grants to train promising MS researchers


Your support is vital to further accelerate our research progress momentum. Please give by December 31st to impact the lives of everyone with MS.


Three centers added to research network focused on pediatric MS

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has committed new funding to expand the Network of Pediatric MS Centers (Network) to 12 nationwide, including new centers at Cleveland Clinic, the University of Colorado and Washington University in St. Louis. Expanding this research network by three centers will enhance the ability to understand childhood multiple sclerosis and its treatment, and to unlock the mysteries of MS in adults.

The Society’s expansion of the network, which provides vital clinical care for children and teens, supports research activities of the individual centers and the University of Utah Data Coordinating and Analysis Center, which is responsible for patient registry and center collaboration. It also connects network members to leverage additional funding sources for specific research questions. Since 2013, the Society has committed $2.8 million to provide essential infrastructure to facilitate research, including searching for the cause of MS by studying risk factors for the disease in children, close to the time it is diagnosed.

“This is one of the largest groups of people with well-characterized pediatric MS in the world, and these three new centers make the network even stronger,” said Dr. Bruce Bebo, Executive Vice President, Research, for the National MS Society. “Working together, this network is propelling knowledge to identify everyday solutions that change the lives of children with MS, while seeking the answers that will stop MS, restore function and end MS forever.”

The Network was launched with Society funding in 2006 to set the standard for pediatric MS care, educate the medical community about this underserved population, and create the framework to conduct critical research that will benefit people of all ages who live with MS. This initiative laid the groundwork for current studies to measure clinical and cognitive manifestations of early-onset MS, and track environmental and genetic triggering. In contrast to adult MS, pediatric MS appears to have a narrower window of onset with more rapid and pervasive cognitive symptoms, which need to be better understood if effective treatments are to be provided.

The network has a close alliance with global research efforts through the International Pediatric MS Study Group, convened by the Society in 2002, and which now includes leadership from the MS International Federation, other MS societies, and medical and scientific leaders from more than 15 countries.

“The Network of Pediatric MS Centers is a strategic investment that will help us achieve our most important goal ― a world free of multiple sclerosis,” said Cyndi Zagieboylo, President and CEO of the Society

A family affair


Ron Scram

For Ron and Carol Schram, their daughters Laura Page and Alison Baldwin, their sons-in-law and their grandchildren, MS is truly a family affair.

“We have a family of 12. Two have MS, but all 12 of our lives are very affected by the disease,” Ron says. That’s why they all view themselves as ambassadors for MS research. “As a family we try to confront the disease by spreading information about research opportunities, the progress being made and the need for increased funding,” Ron says. “We’re very encouraged by the work of the NOW Campaign, along with the National MS Society’s recognition that we have to speed up the research to advance the knowledge base and to find new treatments.”

Ron has been on the board of trustees of the Society’s Greater New England chapter for many years, and is currently chair of the chapter’s donor development committee. He’s also a member of the NOW Campaign Cabinet. Alison is an active member of the chapter's Climb to the Top event committee. Laura's husband Eric was the event's largest fundraiser and Alison was the second largest. Carol and Laura frequently talk with people who have been newly diagnosed with MS, sharing their experiences, positive attitudes and hope for a cure.

I’m also a member of the Society’s Houston Leadership Council. I speak to people about research initiatives like the NOW Campaign. I’ll talk to anybody who will listen about MS research, whether it’s one person or 500. I’ve gone to high schools and corporations.

Carol was diagnosed with MS in 1983, followed by Laura 15 years later. Carol had few symptoms for the first 25 years after her diagnosis, but about five years ago her disease shifted to the secondary-progressive course. “She has serious neuropathy in her feet and legs that makes it difficult for her to walk,” Ron says. “And she has constant pain.” Laura’s disease has also transitioned from relapsing-remitting to secondary-progressive. “She takes care of her two daughters, ages 10 and 7, and when they’re in school, she’s doing therapy. It’s a full-time job to take care of herself,” Ron says.

Alison hasn’t been diagnosed with MS, but Ron says she’s apprehensive she or her four children might develop the disease. Laura is also concerned that her two children might develop the disease. “The impact on our family is very comprehensive,” he says. “Not just physically, but with a lot of emotional baggage as well.”

But you won’t see woeful faces if you meet a family member at one of the many fundraising events they attend every year. “Everybody going through life has challenges,” Ron says. “You can’t wallow in the ones you’re facing, and no one wants to trade for anyone else’s challenges anyway, so you recognize the best strategy for dealing with your challenges is an optimistic outlook.”

The family has seen countless times how sharing that positive attitude has not only helped other people with MS, but also encouraged potential donors to support MS research. “MS is a very complex disease, with complex terminology, so personal stories make it understandable for people,” Ron says. “A story about a family that’s struggling with the disease and how they’re coping with it, the attitude they bring and what they’re doing to advance the cause—people say, ‘That’s something I can feel part of and want to support.’”

Ron sees that positive spirit reflected in the NOW Campaign Cabinet. “The purpose of the cabinet is to energize people who have a passion for MS fundraising and to give them tools and messages to make their efforts more effective. The passion of the people in the cabinet is palpable. You can hear it in their voices—the excitement about the campaign’s progress,” he says. “And that just encourages our family to double our efforts to raise additional funds to make life better for all of us.”


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