Solving a complex disease requires a comprehensive strategy

I just visited, the online community of the Society, and I was struck by something that I also hear as I meet people with MS around the country. This is a complex disease. More than 80 online discussions are posted about symptoms – and they’re all different topics: “Arm pain,” “Shaky,” “Numbness in fingers,” “Restless leg syndrome”…the list goes on.  

This is why a comprehensive approach to research is so essential – we need to find lots of different therapies that can stop the disease, but we also need to find other intervention options that can improve the symptoms that affect people with MS. That’s why we’re supporting 50 studies addressing symptoms, exercise and rehabilitation, with the goal to improve mobility, fatigue, strength, walking, spasticity, cardio fitness, cognition, and preventing falls. And to enhance research in this area, we have a special training program for rehabilitation research.

Here are just a few examples of how the scientists funded by our research programs are addressing the complex set of symptoms that goes along with the experience of having MS:
  • Using hypnosis and biofeedback to see if people achieve better control of their pain (University of Wisconsin)
  • Determining whether aerobic exercise can improve cognition and brain health (UCLA)
  • Testing whether cycling can actually reduce muscle spasms (University of Chicago)
  • Exploring whether improvement in balance control can reduce the fatigue that many people with MS experience (University of Colorado)
  • Investigating the potential of molecules found on nerve fibers as possible therapies for treating cognitive problems in MS (Johns Hopkins)
  • Examining the effects of an inexpensive stimulant medication on balance and walking (VA Medical Center, Portland)
  • Testing a possible treatment for lung function and cough abnormalities that can occur in people with MS (University of Ottawa) 
We have also supported and spearheaded this research through our therapy development subsidiary, Fast Forward, LLC, providing seed funding to get companies through the early stages of advancing treatments that can restore function. Here are a few examples:
  • We are partnering with Accera, Inc., and the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in a clinical trial to determine potential benefits of Accera’s medical food, Axona® (caprylic triglyceride), on cognitive impairment in people with MS. I’m very excited by this project because we haven’t seen a “medical food” studied before – read more about it here.
  • We are collaborating with Concert Pharmaceuticals Inc. to fund the preclinical advancement of C-21191, a neurotransmitter-modulator with potential to improve both spasticity and pain in people with MS. Fast Forward is providing the support to get this treatment ready for clinical trials in people with MS. Read more here.
  • Fast Forward’s investment in the preclinical development of a spasticity treatment by Canbex Therapeutics Ltd., has led to the company’s ability to recently leverage this funding to complete a $3.2 million-fundraising round that will now enable it to finish early development of this therapy.
I believe that our research funding programs have to take on the same complexity as the disease itself, and continue to be striking in their diversity and willingness to ensure that no opportunity is wasted in taking any approach necessary to restore function to people with MS.
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Timothy Coetzee, PhD

Dr. Timothy Coetzee, National MS Society Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer, has been a leader in the pursuit of innovative ways to move us closer to a world free of MS since receiving his PhD in microbiology and immunology in 1993.