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Monday, March 31, 2014

Making Sense of Multiple Sclerosis Research (Blogroll)

(For a brief primer on multiple sclerosis, skip to the end of this article.)

March was National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in the United States.
Kim and I at Bike MS 2013 with a Fighting
Shamrocks sign that sums up our feelings. Scientific
research is the only way to improve quality of life
for current and future MS patients.

Were you aware?

With any chronic illness, clear communication between patients, doctors, and researchers is a critical concern. Patients in particular, most of whom are scientific laypeople, have an extremely difficult time keeping up with developments in research. The multiple sclerosis (MS) community is no exception. Cutting-edge research is being conducted along a myriad of avenues related to MS, from the cause to the mechanism of disease progression to treatment development.

However, keeping patients informed of these cutting-edge developments in a way that is easily understood is a tough item for researchers. Blogging can help to change that by making research details available - and accessible - to everyone.

The Research Blogroll
Dr. Karen Lee, the vice president of research at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, keeps a blog detailing the major goals of studies funded by the Society (and more). In particular, this post builds understanding from the ground up to explain in layman's terms how three research teams are pursuing one facet of the MS problem.

It is easy to think of doctors, patients, and researchers as three mutually exclusive sets of people, but that is not always the case. In a series of posts entitled "MS Patient, Ph. D.," Dr. Griselda Zuccarino-Catania and Dr. Emily Willingham provide unique insights on all three realms based on their personal experiences both as scientists and as MS patients. They give information on everything from digesting exciting research findings to the frustrations of making sense of diagnoses from multiple doctors. The Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum, which hosts the series, is in itself an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about MS research.

Dr. Gavin Giovannoni of Barts and The London Neuroimmunology Group and another blogger by the name of MouseDoctor maintain a blog designed to keep the public informed of research findings across the MS community. If you are a biochemist looking for scientifically heavier reading material, then the blog is a gold mine for you. However, many of the posts are philosophical in nature and accessible to everyone, such as this post about how potentially harmful therapies fit in with the Hippocratic Oath.

We're All in This Together
A problem like MS requires minds to solve it, and not just a few. By improving communication between researchers and patients, just as these bloggers and many more are trying to do, the number of people in the huddle grows larger and larger. Improved communication carries a second benefit, however, which is articulated perfectly by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada: "[...] Hearing directly from a researcher about their work provides a powerful tool of hope, of better understanding of what the future could promise through research."

About MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease in which a patient's central nervous system is slowly degraded. Specifically, the protective coating of myelin nerve cells is worn away, which throws a wrench in the body's communication systems. A wide variety of symptoms results, ranging from impaired memory to loss of motor skills. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that 400,000 Americans are afflicted with MS.

The cause of MS is not known. This fact makes researching possible treatments for the disease extremely difficult. For an excellent review of known trends in MS diagnosis, check out this 2008 paper in The Lancet ($). The National Multiple Sclerosis Society also offers this list of potential causes (read: research targets) for MS, along with a very interesting list of factors shown not to be the cause of MS.

Scientists of all sorts are involved in MS research. In particular, chemists and biochemists have developed several commercially available drugs that are used in MS treatment. These drugs can take the form of small molecules or large tailored antibodies; which drugs are applicable depends on how far the MS has progressed.

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