HIGHLIGHT: Findings from the Challenge Awards Presented at the Alliance’s Fourth Scientific Congress

On June 14-16, 2023, the Alliance held their Fourth Scientific Congress in Vienna, Austria focused on understanding mechanisms that drive progression in MS and how to stop them. The Alliance is a global effort comprised of 20 MS organizations in addition to donor, foundation, trust, and industry forum members – all working together to accelerate the development of effective treatments for people with progressive MS. MS Canada is a managing and founding member of the Alliance.  

In 2021, the Alliance announced the Challenges in Progressive MS Awards aimed to support innovative research with potential to result in new therapeutic targets. They awarded 17 pilot grants to research teams from 13 countries, providing up to €75,000 in funding for each grant. At this year’s scientific congress, recipients of the Challenge Awards shared their findings and next steps, some of which are highlighted below.

  • Dr. Jennifer Gommerman (University of Toronto, Canada) determined how damage to a specific structure of the brain called the hippocampus may affect cognitive function in people with progressive MS. They examined a specific part of the immune system called “complement” to understand how it may be linked to nerve loss in the brain. They found one component of complement called “C3” that may be involved in disrupting the connection between nerve fibers in the hippocampus. Dr. Gommerman is looking at ways to target C3 to slow, stop, or prevent nerve fiber damage and cognitive dysfunction in people with MS.
  • Dr. Simon Hametner (Medical University of Vienna, Austria) examined regions of brain tissue damage that contain iron, called “iron rim lesions”. These iron rim lesions can be identified on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and have been associated with worse MS progression. Specifically, Dr. Hametner investigated the role of a protein factor called “CD163” in iron accumulation and MS severity. Further understanding of iron rim lesions, how they are formed, and what is preventing repair will help in determining new therapeutic targets for treatment of MS.
  • Dr. David Leppert (University Hospital Basel, Switzerland) studied methods to better detect the factors, NfL and GFAP, in the blood as potential clinical indicators of progression in MS. They have found a way to tag the NfL molecule in order to detect low levels of it in the blood and have determined that measuring both NfL and GFAP in the blood may be the best way to predict progression in the absence of relapses. The team plans to further understand normal values of these factors in people with MS and aim to identify other markers of progression for use in the clinic. Read more about this study – here.

Several of the Challenge Award recipients have applied for funding to continue their research. The Alliance’s Scientific Steering Committee and other experts, including scientific experts and people affected by MS, will determine which projects to prioritize for further funding.

Read more on the key outcomes from the scientific congress – here