Affiliation(s): University of Saskatchewan
Dr. Valerie Verge, University of Saskatchewan
Dr. Valerie Verge is an emerita Medical Research Council of Canada Fellow and Scholar, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and Director of the Cameco MS Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Saskatchewan (UofS). She has been at the UofS since 1992, following completion of her Ph.D. with Dr. Peter Richardson in 1990 at McGill University and her postdoctoral studies with Professor Tomas Hökfelt at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The design of more effective nervous system repair paradigms without maladaptive consequences is a major goal of her nationally funded research program, that includes many talented trainees and highly qualified personnel. Her current MS Society funded research has revealed that increasing the activity of focally demyelinated axons improves remyelination, confers an axon protective phenotype and changes the properties of the associated immune response, namely cells called macrophages, from a pro-inflammatory toward a pro-repair state. Dr. Verge is also a strong advocate for neuroscience research, including MS, in Canada. She is a past President of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience and serves on/has served on numerous national and international committees and advisory boards.
How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
Our MS research focusses on elucidating a novel non-invasive approach that we have discovered enhances the intrinsic ability of the nervous system to repair itself and protects the demyelinated axon from degenerating following a demyelinating episode. We also hope that these strategies will attenuate disease progression.
My best friend growing up was diagnosed with MS just as I entered graduate studies. A career-long hope has been that the insights I have gained into how to more effectively repair the nervous system, may one day provide new therapeutic strategies for people with this disease. Further, as Director of the University of Saskatchewan Cameco MS Neuroscience Research Center and its interface with the MS Clinic, I have become even more acutely aware of the impact of MS and the need for effective treatments. It is the MS client, their caregivers and families, and the dedication and the devotion of my fellow MS researchers and trainees that inspire me to continue advancing research in this field.
What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?
Research is challenging. It can sometimes take months to years to develop new methodology or models to best test a hypothesis. I love the challenge of having to solve complex pathological puzzles with my trainees, collaborators and research personnel. It is so exciting when you realize that you have discovered a new way of thinking about a problem and a potential new therapeutic strategy. A burning need to know why, and to help others, propels me through each day. A major challenge is difficulty obtaining sufficient research funding to support the hypotheses that need to be tested to develop new therapies.
Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?
The insights and expertise afforded me by my collaborators have expanded my own thought processes and often resulted in synergistic research efforts. Specifically, with respect to my MS Society-funded project, it was my initial work with Drs. Tessa Gordon, Tom Brushart and Doug Zochodne on electrical nerve stimulation and its positive impact on peripheral nervous system repair, including post-regeneration axon remyelination that started my investigations into whether the same mechanisms might apply to the focally demyelinated nervous system. Dr. Gillian Muir’s work and my subsequent collaboration with her, using acute intermittent hypoxia to improve outcomes from the spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries have given us the preliminary insights on which we have developed the hypotheses that will be tested in our proposed MS research. This research would not be readily feasible without her as a co-investigator.
How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?
The award of an MS Society of Canada grant is pivotal to our ability to conduct this research, as it provides the support necessary to buy the supplies and support the personnel required to meet the grant objectives and disseminate the findings. Beyond the grant, the MS Society of Canada’s creation of an MS dedicated research network and their facilitation of sharing of ideas amongst the researchers and trainees, all working toward the common goal of improving the lives of those with MS, has enriched and advanced my research program.
If you could ask one question to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?
Do you ever have any forewarning that an attack is coming on?