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Quarterly Update

Spring 2023


In this article

Amplifying Innovation: The Barancik Prize and the Dystel Prize

Elevating the tireless work of MS researchers will lead to cures for MS. The Barancik Prize and Dystel Prize honor scientists whose revolutionary approaches are improving the lives of people living with multiple sclerosis. We are inspired to share the revolutionary contributions of Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie and Dr. Roland Martin.

Barancik Prize Winner, Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie

Dr. Ruth Ann MarrieThe Barancik Prize awards original, cutting-edge scientific MS research and focuses on the potential of the work to result in pathways for treatment and cures for MS. The Society is pleased to honor Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie with this honor for her focus on deepening understanding of how and when MS evolves.

Dr. Marrie’s research takes a holistic approach to understand how MS affects individuals in the context of their unique lifetime experiences and exposures, which may include:

  • adverse childhood experiences
  • social circumstances
  • comorbidities (other disorders along with MS)
  • health behaviors
  • and other factors.

Understanding how different factors impact the onset and evolution of MS may offer new avenues for personalized approaches to stopping MS and for finding ways to prevent it.

Among her many contributions:

  • Comorbidities can make MS worse: The impact of comorbidities had not been meaningfully explored in MS before Dr. Marrie began her work. In 2010, she published the first report suggesting that comorbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol could increase disability and progression in people with MS. Her team has since shown that various comorbidities affect all aspects of MS including time to diagnosis, severity of disability at diagnosis, the use of health care, relapse rates and mortality.

This work raises the possibility that addressing other health conditions may reduce the impacts of MS as well. Her findings have informed treatment guidelines by the American Academy of Neurology, the Canadian Network of MS Clinics, and the international MS Brain Health group.​

Dr. Marrie broke new ground in 2012 with the publication of a landmark paper showing that people with MS increased their use of healthcare (doctor visits) during the five years before their first symptoms of MS occurred. This and additional work by her team led to the recognition that MS has a “prodrome,” an early phase of unspecific symptoms indicating a high risk for future diagnosis of MS. Further work to map out the prodrome may enable opportunities to intervene and prevent the development of full-blown MS. 

Dr. Marrie is also a coauthor of the Pathways to MS Cures Roadmap that outlines the most promising research to stop MS, restore function, and end MS by prevention. She played a key role in the National MS Society’s MS Prevalence Initiative, in which leading experts developed a feasible estimate of the number of people living with MS in the U.S. They showed that nearly 1 million people are living with MS in the U.S. – more than twice the previous estimate. 

The Barancik Prize is presented by the National MS Society and made possible through the incredible generosity of the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation. Read more about past Barancik prize honorees.

Dystel Prize Winner, Dr. Roland Martin

Dr. Roland MartinThe John Dystel Prize for MS Research is awarded collaboratively by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology, and recognizes exceptional contributions to research in the understanding, treatment, or prevention of MS. This year’s winner is Dr. Roland Martin from University Zurich and University Hospital Zurich, in Zurich, Switzerland. He is being honored for advancing our understanding of immune mechanisms underlying multiple sclerosis and translating them to develop innovative strategies to treat the disease.  

Dr. Martin uncovered how key MS susceptibility genes are involved in launching immune attacks on the nervous system and identified specific components of nerve-insulating myelin that are targeted by those attacks. His team has developed an experimental therapy designed to make the immune system ignore those targets but leave the rest of the protective immune system intact. This strategy is now in clinical testing.

Dr. Martin’s work has revealed how immune B cells play a role in activating immune T cells to enter the brain and spinal cord and target specific tissue components in MS and has offered clues to how infectious agents or gut bacteria could trigger MS immune attacks. He has also provided care for people with MS throughout his career, has conducted early clinical trials testing novel therapies in MS, and was responsible for making aHSCT available in Switzerland for people with active MS.

The Dystel Prize is facilitated through a special contribution from the John Dystel Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund at the National MS Society since 1995. Read more about past Dystel Prize honorees.

Quenching the Needs Within Neurology Deserts

Brain scanNeurology deserts are defined as geographic areas with a shortage of accessible neurological care: an unfortunate reality that many people living with MS face. The scarcity of MS specialty care providers and informed general neurologists in many areas of the U.S. pose severe risk to people living in MS neurology deserts. Studies show that delays in receiving confirmed diagnoses and access to disease-modifying therapy compromise the journeys of people living with MS.

Bristol Myers Squibb seeks to identify and support programs that address inequities in healthcare. The Society was recently awarded a generous grant to explore this dilemma: “Neurology Desert Mapping: Identifying Care Deserts to Reduce Health Disparities and Address Social Determinants of Health”. The goals of the work are to pinpoint areas across the country that are considered neurology deserts and cultivate learning collaboratives to share information that will better inform treatment and care options.

By connecting with and sharing this vital information with local providers and neurologists, we will remove barriers to high quality healthcare and ensure people with MS have what they need to live their best lives. We look forward to providing you with inspiring updates and outcomes on this multi-year project.

Meet the MS Changemakers: Sharon Jacobs & David Cohan

Sharon Jacobs, David Cohan & family

Sharon (center left), diagnosed in 1990

Sharon Jacobs is the portrait of determination. As an avid sailor – and alongside her husband, David Cohan – she has spent much of her adult life sailing around the world, navigating choppy waters and rough winds all in the name of adventure. And for more than thirty years, she has navigated the challenges of secondary progressive MS.

Despite her diagnosis in 1990, Sharon was adamant about maintaining her love for long-distance cruising. She and David first circumnavigated the Pacific Ocean from 1987 to 1989, before welcoming daughters Kaela and Kimberley. They dreamed about sailing around the globe together as a family of four. As their family grew, Sharon’s physical abilities continued to decline. She began using a cane, then a walker, occasional wheelchair and finally, becoming a full-time wheelchair user. They earnestly sought ways to adapt so they could continue doing what they loved: exploring the world together as a family, by sail. And they needed a bigger boat.

In 1999, their beloved 46-foot cutter, Tahu Le’a, was ready for the water – and customized with dozens of features to assist Sharon in maneuvering the boat and moving about the interior as well. As Sharon’s mobility challenges progressed, David designed and built various lifts and seats to aid in moving Sharon safely through the sailing experience. These modifications allowed them to enjoy over two years of full-time cruising as a family, despite Sharon’s continual decline in mobility. At this point, their long-distance cruising has been paused, but David days, “We haven’t given up dreaming, but extended cruising again will require some medical breakthroughs for Sharon that are conceivable, but far from guaranteed.”

Sharon and David began consistently supporting the MS Society years ago, as they wanted to further MS research discoveries – especially those that can restore function. They consulted with her neurologist, who suggested the Society was the only institution he would recommend supporting.

We are deeply grateful for their leadership as MS Changemakers and commitment to changing the world for people living with MS.

MS Changemakers are a group of individuals whose generosity of $5,000 or more per year collectively provides one of the most significant sources of support for the National MS Society’s work in communities across the country and global leadership to move us closer to a cure. Learn more about becoming an MS Changemaker and how this group of supporters is changing MS forever.

MS Activists: Dynamic and Determined

MS activists gather in Washington, D.C.We continue to celebrate the inspiring momentum made possible by MS activists. Last month, Public Policy Conference was held in Washington, D.C. and united 200 determined MS activists with legislators to discuss crucial topics relevant to the MS community. Among them, expanding funding for the MS Research Program and VA MS Centers of Excellence, and addressing barriers to air travel accessibility.

On March 28, the Society hosted our first ever MS Activist Rally – a virtual gathering for anyone desiring collaboration to drive change through activism. Attendees learned more about policy issues that affect the MS community, engaged in community-building conversations and connected with elected officials.

There are many ways to get involved in advocacy efforts at the Society. A few starting points:

MS activists at the Public Policy Conference

Explore avenues for using your social media outlets to advocate for change – remember that our collective voice leads to big change for people affected by MS around the world.


© 2024 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.