Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Dr. Alain Simard

Associate Professor, Medical Sciences Division, Northern Ontario School of Medicine

Dr. Simard is the head of the laboratory of neuroimmunology, at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury, Canada. He obtained his Ph.D. at the Université Laval, Québec, in 2006. During this time, he studied the role of CNS inflammation in neurodegeneration, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease and neuronal death. He began to study the effects of the cholinergic system on inflammation and Multiple Sclerosis during a post-doctoral fellowship at the Barrow Neurological Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona (2007-2011). Dr. Simard was then appointed an assistant professor position at the Université de Moncton (2011-2017), and recently moved to NOSM as an associate professor (summer 2017). He continues to research how neurotransmitters are used to control inflammation, and the importance of these molecules in cell-to-cell communication and ultimately in MS. One of his key findings was that manipulation of the cholinergic system can significantly control the entry of damaging cells into the CNS in animal models of MS.

Learn more about Dr. Simard

How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?

Throughout high school and my undergraduate studies, I was a volunteer at my city’s hospital, in the long-term care wing. During this time, I got to know and to care for many patients, a few of which had MS. Also, the mother of a very good friend and mentor of mine had MS, and her passion for MS research greatly increased my interest in finding a cure for MS.

What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?

In fact, what I enjoy most is that every day provides a new challenge! Sometimes the data we obtain are not at all what we expected, or some experiments simply do not work as planned. When we solve these challenges, the feeling of triumph is always exhilarating.

Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?

This project involves a collaboration with two researchers at the University of Florida. Dr. Nicole Horenstein generates novel molecules of interest, which are characterized by Dr. Roger Papke for their pharmacological properties. I then assess the efficiency of the most promising molecules to alter disease course in a mouse model of MS, and to inhibit inflammation using mouse and human immune cells. Various areas of expertise, namely in chemistry, neurobiology and immunology, are therefore necessary for this project. Hence, teamwork is an essential component of our research.

How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?

The funding provided by the MS Society of Canada is indispensable for my research on this topic, as I do not currently have other funds to carry out this project. Without it, progress would be much slower. I am therefore eternally grateful to the MS Society of Canada and all of its generous donors.

If you could ask one question to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?

There are many different levels of research, for example one research may concentrate on clinical research, and another focus on 'basic' or biomedical research. My research is more in line with the latter category, where we work to better understand the systemic, cellular and molecular mechanisms of MS with the ultimate goal of developing new potential therapies. As a basic scientist however, once we have identified a potential new drug, we often delve deeper in the molecular mechanisms of a new drug, rather than simply focusing on how well the drug works. Sometimes this provides information that can improve the potential therapy, but it is very time-consuming. How important is this to you, or should we focus on getting the potential therapy to the clinical stage more rapidly?

Dr. Simard’s MS Society supported project:

Characterizing the anti-inflammatory and disease-modifying potential of novel a7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor silent agonist