Affiliation(s): University of British Columbia
Dr. Shannon Kolind, University of British Columbia
Dr. Kolind earned her PhD in Physics at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, developing ways to measure myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), with a particular focus on multiple sclerosis (MS). She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford and King’s College London. While in the UK, she specialized in developing new methods to image myelin in the brain and spinal cord and making these techniques more practical for use in research. There, she focused largely on progressive MS, and neuromyelitis optica. Having returned to UBC to become an Associate Professor in the Division of Neurology, Dr. Kolind’s lab is focused on developing a toolbox of tissue-specific imaging techniques and making them available to everyone, everywhere. Her multi-disciplinary team employs these multi-modal tools to achieving greater sensitivity and specificity in clinical research; particularly for clinical trials of new therapies.
What is the focus of your research? How did you become interested in MS research?
The focus of my research is developing biologically-specific and clinically relevant markers of MS disease, particularly disease progression, using MRI. We apply these measures in research to better understand the mechanisms of MS, and in clinical trials in hopes of better therapies against disease activity and progression; ultimately, we hope these markers will lead to a cure.
My first exposure to MS was through my grandfather who was diagnosed before the invention of MRI. He was a wonderful man, and I am honoured to be able to work to try to improve the lives of those receiving that same diagnosis now, and hope to see the end of such a diagnosis. From a scientific perspective, it is an extremely exciting time to be involved in MS research with so many successful new therapies on the horizon; understanding how these therapies work and who might benefit from them is very rewarding.
What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
Seeing the bravery, kindness, and perseverance amongst people living with MS is extremely motivating to continue to strive for improvements in clinical care. The spirit of community that also encompasses those involved in clinical care and research is also inspiring. Successes such as finding links between imaging markers and clinical symptoms such as cognitive changes, and detecting changes in these markers of the time course of a clinical trial, show that our goals are approaching our reach.
How do you hope to change the lives of people living with MS through your research?
With this study, we will develop and apply a new MRI technique that provides information about the health of axons, the cells that act as electrical wires in the brain and spinal cord, and myelin, the cells that wrap around axons, protecting them and speeding up signal transmission. We hope that by showing that this non-invasive, biologically-specific information, is closely linked to specific clinical symptoms relating to disease progression, they can be deployed for upcoming clinical trials to provide treatment options for MS disease progression.
What do you enjoy most about your research? What are some of the challenges you face?
Working with people living with MS is always motivating, and I am always touched by the generosity of those donating their time and efforts to research. I also greatly enjoy working with trainees, hopefully inspiring brilliant young scientists to work in this important field. Finally, I love being able to use a giant magnet to look inside the body!
How important is the support from the MS Society of Canada in your research?
Support from the MS Society of Canada is critical to our research. This grant allows us to focus on progressive aspects of MS, which is often neglected for clinical trials or studies. It provides funding for qualified personnel, keeping key researchers in the field of MS research. It allows us to publish and present results such that everyone can access them. It also enables greater collaboration and communication within the Canadian MS research community.
If you could ask one question to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?
What aspect of MS do you feel is being overlooked, despite having a big impact on your life?
What is your role in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort study?
I am a Co-Pillar lead for the Neuroimaging Pillar. I am involved in establishing imaging protocols, integrating imaging data across sites, and in particular, advanced MRI techniques that provide more biologically-specific information to supplement the clinical MRI examinations.
Why is important that patients will take part in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort study?
This is an opportunity for us to work together as Canadians to get a meaningful understanding of progression in MS. We are so grateful for the participation of people living with MS, as we could not make strides toward the goal of halting progression without the critical information provided by volunteers. We hope that participants will find the experience enjoyable in getting to interact with researchers and learn more about MS.
What potential outcomes do you expect to arise from the Canadian MS Progression Cohort initiative from the work that you will be contributing toward to the cohort?
I'm particularly excited about building a model that could help us understand, predict, and target progression. By combining data from such distinct and widespread areas of research from immunology to clinical data to imaging, we will form a much more complete and useful picture of progression and what to do about it. This could provide tools for everything from policy decisions to personalised care.