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MS research highlights from ECTRIMS

Katie Haylor

Last week, the MS research community came together virtually for ECTRIMS – the largest annual international conference on the basic and clinical science of MS. Our research team went along to listen - here are just a few of our highlights.

“Technology has amazing potential to advance MS care”

 Dr Clare Walton, Head of Research

“I was excited to hear that smart gadgets like phones, watches and Fitbits could potentially track subtle changes in behaviour that can happen as MS gets worse. Many promising sensors and apps have been developed and some are already in clinical trials.

"These technologies are particularly exciting for MS because of how differently people experience MS each day and over time. The unpredictability of MS makes it harder for clinicians to see how someone’s condition is changing and to predict how it might change in the future.

"We need more research on these tools before they can become a routine part of clinical care. The challenge is to work out which sensors and apps are most sensitive and accurate at detecting relevant changes, and which ones people with MS want to use. Excitingly, the speakers hoped this technology might reach clinics in the next few years.”

“We need more sensitive ways of testing for disability in people with MS”

 Dr Katie Askew, Research Officer

“The expanded disability status scale (EDSS) is a way of measuring how much someone is affected by their MS. A score of 0 is classed as 'normal'. But, by using more sophisticated tests of upper body movement and balance, New York neurologist Dr Stephen Krieger showed us that thinking and moving problems can be present even in people scoring 0 on EDSS.

“We need to find more sensitive ways of testing for disability in people with MS, so we can be sure people get the help they need at the right time. And so we can get better at predicting how someone’s MS might affect them in the future. ”

"Keeping cells feeling young is important for myelin repair"

Katie Haylor, Research Communications Officer

 “In order to stop MS, one of the key things we need to do is to promote or boost myelin repair. Last year, researchers at the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair showed that a drug called bexarotene could repair myelin in people with MS. Unfortunately though, bexarotene had too many side effects to take forward.

“We already know that in mice and rats, the natural ability to repair myelin wanes as they get older. So now, the researchers have used data from the trial to see whether myelin repair in people, boosted by a drug, might also depend on age.

"Dr Chris McMurran explained that they found evidence that bexarotene boosted myelin repair more in younger people’s brains (up to early 40s). So people’s age influenced how well the drug worked.

“This is really important information because we need treatments for everyone with MS – regardless of people’s age. Researchers are working on ways to reverse the biological effects of ageing on myelin repairing cells. And a new trial will test whether combining a drug to boost myelin repair (called clemastine), with a drug to make cells feel younger (called metformin) can repair myelin in people with MS.”

For more about the research presented at the conference read some of the findings on smoking and on long-COVID using data from the MS Society UK MS Register.