The end game is to stop symptoms before they begin.
That takes a lot of discovery. We start with basic research that looks at the mechanisms of the disease and for biomarkers that can help us make prognoses, understand how the disease progresses and identify how people will respond to treatment.
We then move to translational research. One example is our work with zebrafish. It turns out that humans share 85 per cent of our genes with these fish, so the research is immensely productive. And, because the fish are transparent, scientists can administer drugs and watch the effects in real time. Now our researchers are turning their attention to concussions, which are a risk factor for MS. In order to understand treatments, we watch the impact of concussion in zebrafish and study the disease’s evolution. Luckily, St. Michael’s has one of the most advanced zebrafish facilities in the world.
But the real test of any treatment comes in human clinical trials. We’re doing that too.
We are testing new drugs and figuring out how to use old drugs in new ways. We are working to find out, for instance, if a drug used to treat primary progressive MS might also help with cognitive problems in other forms of MS.
Importantly, we never conduct research in a vacuum. Researchers and clinicians work side-by-side, exchanging information and knowledge that feed one another’s area of practice.
“It’s essential that researchers see patients,” says Dr. Xavier Montalban, Medical Director, BARLO MS Centre. “They need to take first-hand understanding back to the lab. And they need to feel the humanity. This isn’t just science. It’s lives. Nothing can get lost in translation.”