MS Research Roundup: January 15, 2014
Surprising Alcohol Finding; Bigger, Better Patient Research Databases; Start-Up Lessons; MS and Obamacare
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Personalized, Data-Driven Treatment Decisions
To learn how to move a new digital tool for multiple sclerosis into the clinic, MS researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), teamed up with veteran entrepreneurs and investors in a 10-week Lean LaunchPad class. The Mira Medicine project, co-led by neuroscientist Pierre-Antoine Gourraud, Ph.D., MPH, shares their progress and next steps with the UCSF MS Bioscreen, an application that integrates a person's medical records with the latest population-based data from hundreds of other multiple sclerosis patients (including their 3D MRI scans) and charts a unique course of treatment for each patient. (The Huffington Post)
A Toast to Population Data Sets
This time last year at the Keystone Multiple Sclerosis meeting in Big Sky, Montana, Tomas Olsson, M.D., Ph.D., held up a tin of Swedish oral tobacco to showcase a surprising new finding that Swedish snuff takers had less risk of developing MS the more they used. The study raised more questions than it answered. (After all, the longer people smoke, the higher risk they have for MS, especially associated with certain genetic risk factors, the researchers have reported.) In another unexpected finding in JAMA Neurology, alcohol intake also had a modest inverse correlation with MS risk, reported the same first author, Anna Hedström, M.D., who used the same two Swedish cohorts. The protective effect was even greater in smokers. "The current case-control studies are the largest to look at this association," Hedström told Medscape. Alcohol can be a neurotoxin, but the paper suggests a plausible beneficial mechanism. "Experimental studies and clinical observations have suggested that alcohol has an effect on the immune system and may have anti-inflammatory actions mediated by induction of interleukin-10. As MS is an inflammatory condition, we thought alcohol may have a protective effect." People with MS may not need to completely refrain from alcohol. "I simply love the Scandinavian population databases and registries that allow you to do these kinds of studies," wrote Gavin Giovannoni, M.D., in the Multiple Sclerosis Research blog (Medscape, Multiple Sclerosis Research blog)
Patient-Powered Research Databases
Speaking of national registries, patient data in the U.K.'s National Health Service will soon move from physician offices to a central NHS database known as care.data. U.K. medical research charities have urged residents to allow scientists to access deidentified patient data to develop treatments. In the U.S., MSDF's parent organization, the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis, has just won a funding award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to create the Multiple Sclerosis Patient-Powered Research Network. The MS-PPRN is one of 29 PCORI health data networks and will build on its existing network of more than 3,200 participants, 60 research teams, and MS specialty clinics around the country to create a national patient-powered research network for MS. (Science magazine, Accelerated Cure Project)
Meanwhile, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at Washington University in St. Louis took entrepreneurial training into their own hands by forming the nonprofit Biotechnology and Life Science Advising (BALSA) Group in December 2010. Their efforts—and Nature Biotechnology paper—made The Top Five Science Marketing Hits of 2013 on Marketing for Scientists, a careers blog by astrophysicist and country songwriter Marc Kuchner, Ph.D. (Note to BALSA: An MS project would be a great addition to your portfolio.) (Marketing for Scientists)
Health Law Hullaballoo
The Affordable Care Act has had its share of problems, including major computer glitches and a well-funded attack campaign, but reports of inferior and costly insurance coverage for a young woman with MS were greatly exaggerated in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. MS treatment can be expensive—apparently $350,000 a year in this case—but "a 26-year-old woman, even one with multiple sclerosis, wasn’t going to have to pay up to $1,800 a month for coverage that was inferior to what she had before," recounted the Covering Health blog of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Two posts on healthinsurance.org setting the record straight are here and here, with a mea culpa—but not retraction—by the newspaper editor. (Covering Health blog)
Gavin Giovannoni, M.D., and Pierre-Antoine Gourraud, Ph.D., are members of the MSDF Scientific Advisory Board.