Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Funded Research

The importance of diffusely abnormal white matter on disability and progression in multiple sclerosis: insights from imaging and immunology

Year Awarded: 2015

Term: 4 years

Funding Amount: $343,726

Affiliation(s): University of British Columbia

Province(s): British Columbia

Researcher(s): Dr. Cornelia Laule

Research Priorities: Diagnosis

Impact Goal(s): Advance Treatment and Care


  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to study the brains of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Bright areas of damage, known as lesions, are common in people with MS and are easily seen with MRI. MRI can also detect very subtle intensity changes in some MS brains.
  • Whether these subtle intensity changes lead to greater disability faster is unknown.
  • The research team will:
    • Examine people at the very earliest stage of MS, when they have had only one symptom to see if people with the subtle intensity changes are more likely to be diagnosed with MS and have more disability in the future.

Project Description:

MRI has been used for decades to detect bright areas of damage which represent lesions in MS. In nearly a quarter of these cases, MRI scans are able to pick up more subtle alterations, which manifest as slight fluctuations in the intensity of the MRI scan. Precisely how these changes contribute to MS progression is unknown. Using specialized MRI techniques and in-depth blood analysis, the team of researchers led by Dr. Cornelia Laule will test whether these intensity changes are associated with an increased risk of developing MS and/or faster disease progression. Thus far the research team has confirmed that individuals with MS that have these subtle changes seen using MRI indeed progress faster and respond differently to treatment. She will build on these findings by determining if changes are linked to conversion and progression of MS after the onset of the first symptom.

Potential Impact: Provide ways of identifying people who are at risk for progression early on, meaning they could receive more careful monitoring, intensive therapy, and lifestyle modifications to sustain health and prevent progression in the future.

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