Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

MS Connect '18

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Join us in Calgary for MS Connect '18, the MS Society of Canada, Alberta & Northwest Territories Division's annual conference, on September 21 & 22, 2018!

MS Connect ’18 is a conference that brings together people experiencing MS, health professionals and researchers from across Alberta and the Northwest Territories to discuss and learn about the latest MS research and symptom management developments. The conference features presentations from leading MS researchers, posters from up and coming researchers in the MS world, opportunities to engage with experts to aid in your MS journey, vendors and more.

For more details on MS Connect ‘18, please click on the tabs below. We hope to see you in Calgary on September 21 & 22, 2018 for MS Connect '18!



Speaker Bios

Dr. Jiwon Oh

State of the science in progressive MS: Highlights of National and International efforts

Immense progress has been made in the field of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the last few decades, with advances in disease-modifying treatments, neuroimaging techniques used to diagnose and monitor people living with MS, and our understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying MS. Despite all of these advances, therapeutic options and management strategies for people living with progressive MS are still lacking, and it is evident that this is the greatest unmet clinical need in the field. In recognition of this need: local, national, and international organizations are pushing forth collaborative efforts to address this knowledge gap, which have resulted in a number of advances in progressive MS in recent years. This presentation will discuss current and on-going efforts in progressive MS, with a focus on local, national, and international efforts in clinical trials, neuroimaging, and neuroimmunology/biological mechanisms that are advancing the field forward. Over time, the hope is that these collaborative efforts will result in tangible improvements in the way neurologists diagnose, monitor, treat, and improve the quality of lives of people living with MS.

Dr. Jiwon Oh is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Neurology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Oh is a staff neurologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, and specializes in the care of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Concurrently, she holds appointments as a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and as a part-time Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Oh’s research focuses on developing advanced MRI techniques in the spinal cord and brain for use in clinical settings. She leads the MRI research program at St. Michael’s Hospital and is the principal investigator (PI) on a number of local and collaborative, multi-center MRI studies. Dr. Oh has led the establishment of an MS clinic registry at St. Michael’s Hospital which has, to date, captured data from 4000 of the 7000 patients followed yearly and will soon contribute to international registries such as MSBase.

Dr. Oh is also the Secretary and one of the founding Steering Committee members of the North American Imaging in MS Cooperative (NAIMS) - representing a multi-national, collaborative MRI research endeavor in MS. Over the last four years, NAIMS has grown from seven to 27 independent sites and has multiple active multi-center research projects with many more at various stages of development and implementation. Finally, she is leading the Canadian National Progression Cohort, which will be a prospective cohort study that will be designed to better understand progression in MS.

Dr. Pamela Valentine

Welcome and moving forward together

A trained research scientist, Dr. Pamela Valentine comes to the MS Society from Alberta Innovates where she spent over a decade and a half leading innovation and change. Her leadership at Alberta Innovates included significantly growing the health research portfolio and strengthening integration of research and health systems to maximize impact for patients and providers. She also led the establishment of a new Alberta Innovates organization that consolidated four corporations across the health, energy, agriculture and forestry sectors. Pam started her career as a faculty member at the University of Calgary at Hotchkiss Brain Institute and then moved to Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, where she held a number of leadership roles.

Pam believes strongly in collaboration and building robust relationships - and has had a career of working with various stakeholders including from government, the private sector and clinical networks. Collaborating with the board, she will lead a new strategic undertaking that will ensure the MS Society remains a strong national, bilingual organization that delivers exceptional community-based programs focused on enhancing the quality of life of Canadians living with MS.

Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Pam is a published researcher and has been awarded the Canadian Psychological Association of Excellence and the Neuroscience Canada Foundation Award. Pam believes in achieving impact in the health domain - a passion she developed as a basic scientist with a strong desire to facilitate the linkage between basic research and clinical care. Pam is motivated and excited by the ability to touch people affected by MS and their families in a more tangible way.

Dr. Wei-Qiao Liu & Dr. Carlos Rodrigo Camara-Lemarroy

Current therapies, experimental approaches and the prospect of repair in multiple sclerosis

The landscape of disease modifying therapies (DMTs) for multiple sclerosis (MS) today is vast, complex and exciting. First-line treatments for MS include injectable immunomodulators as well as teriflunomide and dimethyl fumarate—drugs that have paved the way for oral treatments. Biologics and other drugs targeting immune cell traffic and function are used as “second” and “third” line therapies. Moreover, the achievements in MS therapeutics are based on the outcomes of clinical trials that demonstrate measurable results; but the lack of head-to-head comparison studies makes sorting treatments in an objective hierarchy of efficacy/safety difficult. The concept of induction followed by a long-term maintenance treatment has attracted much recent attention, but also lacks strong evidence to support its use compared with the more widely accepted escalation approach.

Many patients with relapsing remitting MS later develop chronic progression, termed secondary progressive MS (SPMS), and approximately 10% of MS patients experience chronic progression from disease onset, termed primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). Unfortunately, there is a dearth of treatment options for progressive MS, although last year the first DMT (ocrelizumab, a biologic) came to market for PPMS.

Remyelination and repair are also essential unmet needs in MS therapeutics.Current treatments for MS do not directly promote repair or remyelination. Recent attention and effort have advanced our understanding of processes mediating disease progression to identify and translate possible new treatments. Recent successes inpreclinical in vitro and animal studies that promote remyelinationhas spurred several clinical trials to test new reparative therapies, heralding the next era of MS therapeutics.

Dr. Wei-Qiao Liu

Wei grew up in Calgary and attended the University of Calgary for an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences. He graduated from the Leaders in Medicine program at the University of Calgary with a combined Master of Science degree in neurosciences and a Doctor of Medicine degree. After residency training in neurology at the University of British Columbia, he came back to Calgary for a fellowship in multiple sclerosis and to pursue a PhD in neurosciences to study remyelination therapies in MS. While he has completed his MS fellowship in September 2017, he is aiming to complete his PhD studies by early 2019.

Dr. Carlos Rodrigo Camara-Lemarroy

Dr. Camara trained as an internist and neurologist in Monterrey, Mexico, where later worked as a staff neurologist at the University Hospital and the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery. At the same time, he was a researcher in translational neuroscience, receiving a federal research grant. In 2017, he joined the MS Clinic at Foothills Medical Center, University of Calgary, for a 2-year fellowship in Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology. His current research interests are the gut-brain axis and their relevance to MS.

Dr. Marcus Koch

A new kind of trial to find treatments for progressive MS

In the search for a good treatment for progressive MS, researchers have traditionally used medications that are known to work in relapsing-remitting MS, and designed large randomized controlled trials to test these treatments in patients with secondary or primary progressive MS. These treatments, which are designed to influence the immune system to prevent relapses from occurring, have largely failed in progressive MS. Laboratory research in MS continues to investigate other aspects of progressive MS, and such research has identified drugs that may be helpful in progressive MS by other means, such as by boosting the repair of myelin, by making nerve cells more resilient to damage, and by inactivating cells that contribute to the ongoing tissue damage in progressive MS. In this presentation I will talk about our clinical studies to test drugs that are already used in other diseases, to see if they may have helpful effects progressive MS. We test the usefulness of these medications in a new kind of study design, that allows us to test such treatments faster than in traditional randomized controlled clinical trials. I will present our progress in two studies we are currently running in Calgary, in which we test whether the drugs Domperidone and Hydroxychloroquine are able to slow down disease progression in secondary and primary progressive MS.

Dr. Marcus Koch is an MS neurologist at the Calgary MS Clinic (Foothills Medical Centre) and a researcher at the University of Calgary. He attended medical school in Freiburg and Luebeck in Germany and, after graduating, trained in neurology in Groningen, The Netherlands. During his residency training, he performed research on the epidemiology of progressive MS and earned a PhD for this research in 2009. He also did a research fellowship at the University of British Columbia focused on epidemiological research. Since 2011, he has been working in Calgary, where he treats patients with all forms of MS. His main research focus is progressive MS, especially clinical trials of generic drugs in progressive MS.

Dr. Jodie Burton

A new approach to an old question – Is vitamin D beneficial in established MS

For decades, vitamin D, as a by-product of geographical location, has been hypothesized to impact MS risk, offering up the tantalizing possibility that it could impact disease behaviour as well. This presentation will take the viewer through the earliest days of the vitamin D hypothesis, posited immunopathological mechanisms, the highs and lows of clinical vitamin D research in MS patients up to our current state of knowledge.

Dr. Jodie Burton obtained her BSc in the Life Sciences in 1996 and her MD in 2000 at the University of Toronto. She then undertook a Neurology residency at the University of Toronto, which she completed in 2005. She spent the next two years in a Multiple Sclerosis fellowship with Dr. Paul O'Connor (from 2005 - 2007), and obtained her MSc in Clinical Epidemiology from 2006 - 2008 (both at the University of Toronto). She was on staff at the University of Toronto at the MS clinic from 2007 - 2009, until she joined the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the MS Program, as well as the Department of Community Health Sciences, at the University of Calgary. Dr. Burton is currently an Associate Professor and a full member of the MS Research Program with the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

For over 13 years, Dr. Burton's research has focused on the role of vitamin D in MS disease activity and neuroprotection, with ongoing studies and trials in this area. She is currently a principal investigator of the A Phase II Trial of High-Dose Vitamin D Induction in Optic Neuritis, which is based out of Calgary, Alberta

She has also developed escalation protocols for aggressive MS and Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder (NMOSD), and is the co-director of the Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Program for Multiple Sclerosis at the University of Calgary, as well as the co-lead of Provincial Clinical Knowledge Initiative for NMOSD.

She also participates in the Evidence Based Medicine educational program for neurology residents and supervises students in a variety of research settings.

Dr. Katherine Knox

Web-based physiotherapy for people with multiple sclerosis

Physical activity is important for health benefits and may improve MS symptoms. However, many people share that they experience barriers to physical activity. This presentation will discuss the preliminary results of a physiotherapist guided web-based physical activity program for people with MS. The web-based platform was initially designed with input from people living with MS in the UK. The web-based platform is currently being trialed in Saskatchewan through funding from Hermes Canada, MS Society Wellness Research Innovation Grant. Participants experiences with the program, information about physical activity and MS, practical suggestions for overcoming barriers to physical activity and the potential benefits of physical activity in MS will be presented.

Dr. Katherine Knox is an Associate Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Her clinical practice includes neuro- rehabilitation services, with a special interest in multiple sclerosis. She obtained her fellowship training in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Saskatchewan (2006), and her Doctor of Medicine and Kinesiology degrees at McMaster University. She is a primary investigator with the Cameco MS Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Saskatchewan. Her clinical research focuses on gait, exercise behavior, long term outcomes and quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Jens Walter

The gut microbiota and multiple sclerosis

As humans, our intestinal tract is colonized by a dense and species-rich community of microorganisms (the gut microbiota) that is of paramount importance to our health. Recent clinical and experimental studies clearly indicate an important role of these communities in the etiology of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune disease. In this talk, I will discuss how the gut microbiota is implicated in the pathology of MS and how ‘microbial involvement’ provides explanations for the impact of the environmental risk-factors of MS. I will further discuss some of the microbiome-targeted treatment options that are currently discussed and researched in the field. Although still vastly incomplete, an understanding of the role of gut microbes in MS can inform clinical practices and opens the way for therapeutic and dietary approaches aimed at disease prevention or treatment via a modulation of the gut microbiota.

Jens Walter is an Associate Professor and Campus Alberta Innovation Program Chair for Nutrition, Microbes, and Gastrointestinal Health at the University of Alberta. After receiving his doctoral degree from the University of Hohenheim in Germany, he performed postdoctoral research into genetic and metagenomic approaches to study gut microbial ecology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. In 2006, Dr. Walter accepted a tenure track position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to work as a Molecular Microbial Ecologist. He received tenure in 2012 before moving to the University of Alberta, Canada, in 2014. Dr. Walter’s research focuses on the investigation of ecological and evolutionary processes that shape host–microbial symbioses in the human gut, and the application of these scientific concepts to develop microbiome-targeted nutritional and therapeutic strategies to improve human health. To achieve his goals, Dr. Walter employs a combination of gnotobiotic animal models and human intervention trials, both informed through the use of comparative genomics, phylogenomics, metagenomics and other molecular tools to study gut ecosystems and their bacterial members. In total, Dr. Walter has published 92 peer reviewed publications, several of which made it into the ‘research highlights’ of leading journals and/or received commentaries.

Young Minds of MS Research

Young Minds of MS Research is a chance for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and new researchers to share their multiple sclerosis (MS) research, which is taking place through the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge. Individuals have the opportunity to learn about promising research from up and coming MS researchers, who in turn have the opportunity to share what their research means for MS today, as well as what it may mean tomorrow.

For MS Connect ’18, Young Minds of MS Research will consist of both a poster session and oral presentations.

Oral Presentations

Out of the 15 researchers invited to present their research via posters, three are invited to give 15-minute presentations at MS Connect ‘18.

Kevin Thorburn

Kevin Thorburn is a PhD candidate in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Alberta. Kevin is currently supported by a doctoral studentship from the MS Society of Canada. The primary goal of his research is to understand how neurons can be encouraged to regenerate after they are injured in diseases like multiple sclerosis as well as after spinal cord injury. Kevin has been volunteering with the Edmonton and Capital Region chapter of the MS Society since 2013. He started and continues to participate in the Friendly Visitor program where he regularly visits someone living with MS in a continuing care facility. Kevin has also helped with casino fundraisers and has volunteered at the Edmonton Marathon on the MS Society’s behalf. In his spare time, Kevin likes to camp, hike and bike ride. Kevin is team captain of Go for Spoke, which recently made its debut at the 2018 Johnson MS Bike ride. He and his team mates finished the ride cold, wet (very, very wet) and tired, but had a lot of fun and are looking forward to growing the team for next years ride.

The case of the missing astrocytes: implications for nerve regeneration and remyelination in Multiple Sclerosis

Authors: Kevin Thorburn, Tamim Rezaie, John Paylor, Ian Winship , Bradley J Kerr

In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), immune cells infiltrate the brain and spinal cord and attack the myelin sheath that insulates nerves. Loss of the myelin sheath is stressful for neurons and can result in neuron death. The combination of myelin loss and neuron stress/death ultimately results in the symptoms of MS including paralysis and pain. Under normal circumstances, immune cell entry into the brain and spinal cord is limited by cells called astrocytes. In an animal model of MS, I have found that astrocytes disappear at a particular nerve (the trigeminal nerve). In nerve tissue where the astrocytes have disappeared, I find that there is more immune cell infiltration and myelin/nerve damage compared to tissue where the astrocytes are still present. This suggests that the astrocytes may be protecting the myelin and neurons from the immune cells. I am currently trying to identify what makes the astrocytes disappear. If I can figure that out, I can begin looking for therapies that bring astrocytes back to support and protect neurons. This would be a major step towards promoting nerve regeneration, repair and rehabilitation. My work may also improve our understanding of headache and facial pain (e.g. migraine and trigeminal neuralgia) that is often associated with MS.

Taelor Evans

Taelor is a recent Health Science graduate from Mount Royal University. Taelor is currently working in Dr. Jeff Dunn’s lab for her third summer researching MS, and in the fall, she will begin her Master’s degree. Outside of the lab, Taelor likes to keep herself involved in the MS community. She is a member of both the MS Society Board of Directors and MS Society Bike Tour, and she also volunteers regularly at other MS Society events. In the future, Taelor aspires to continue researching MS and pursue a career in neurology.

Monitoring Brain Health in MS Using Light

Authors: Taelor Evans, Scott Jarvis, Runze Yang, Jeff F. Dunn

Low brain oxygenation can impair brain function and promote an upregulated immune response. Brain oxygenation can be measured using a new imaging technology, called fdNIRS, that shines light into the brain and measures how much light comes back. fdNIRS measurements can be acquired in one minute by placing a rubber probe on the forehead. We used fdNIRS to measure brain oxygenation in 13 control subjects and 30 people with MS. We found that about 40% of relapsing-remitting and secondary progressive MS patients have low brain oxygenation compared to control subjects. Since low oxygen could stimulate immune system activity, fdNIRS measurements may be telling us who is currently having a relapse. We are excited about these results because, for the first time, we have a technology that may be used to image the brain during a regular clinic visit. fdNIRS could provide us with a convenient, new tool to assess brain health in MS.

Annie Pu

Annie completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, majoring on neuroscience and immunology. She is currently a Masters student in the lab of Dr. V. Wee Yong at the University of Calgary, studying the effects of the extracellular matrix on remyelination in the spinal cord. Annie really enjoys speaking with those affected by MS, and has participated in a number of events aimed at discussing and supporting MS research with the general public, like Think Big, Stem Cell Talks, and the annual MS Walk. Outside of research, she is an avid foodie. Annie likes finding and trying interesting foods in and outside of Canada. She also enjoys water colour painting and sketching as a hobby.

CSPGs – a new frontier in regeneration

Authors: Annie Pu and V. Wee Yong

The extracellular matrix (ECM; everything outside of cells) is an area that is understudied and underrepresented in MS research. A large variety of molecules, including proteins and sugars, exist in the ECM, and they have important roles in development and normal functioning of the nervous system. Along the same lines, the molecules of the ECM also play significant roles when the nervous system is injured. In particular, a group of ECM proteoglycans (protein-sugar combination molecule) called the chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) is now a highlight of this growing area of research. CSPGs form a ring around active MS lesions that seems to not allow anything in or out. From studies in spinal cord injury, we know that CSPGs potently stop the regrowth of nerve cells across the injured area. Now, others have shown that CSPGs also prevent the generation of new myelin in MS plaques. To produce new myelin, oligodendrocyte precursor cells must enter the demyelinated area and mature into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. CSPGs are thought to be a significant barrier to the mobility and maturation of these cells. It’s thought that CSPGs are a large contributor to why MS lesions fail to remyelinate. We’re currently exploring how to either remove CSPGs from the lesions, or to prevent them from being made and laid down at the lesions in the first place. While there are some drug-related approaches being tested, my project focuses on investigating the natural way through which CSPG production is limited inside the body.

Poster Session

15 up and coming researchers will be invited to present their research at MS Connect ’18 in poster format. The poster session runs from 12:30 – 1:30 PM on Saturday, September 22 with the researchers available to answer questions. Posters can be viewed throughout the entire conference.

We encourage you to stop by, learn, connect and speak with these researchers! The audience's feedback contributes to the selection of winners for the best poster and oral presentation at MS Connect ‘18. Each winner receives a small award to support their continued MS research.

'Cutting' MS off at the source: identifying how MS danger signals are produced

Authors: Corey R Arnold, Antoine Dufour, Benjamin W Ewanchuk, Robin M Yates

In multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system erroneously targets and attacks the central nervous system, but how this mistake first arises is poorly understood. In the body, cells constantly take up debris, consisting of both foreign (bacteria) and familiar (dying cells) material. This material is digested within cells, and pieces are presented to immune cells which either identify the piece as safe, and leave well enough alone, or as dangerous, and mount an inflammatory response. In MS, proteins of the protective myelin sheath that surrounds neurons are improperly identified as dangerous, and the immune system attacks myelin resulting in the nerve damage underlying MS symptoms. How proteins are digested in cells before being presented was thought to be random, until recent evidence suggested this process is actually quite structured, resulting in reproducible patterns of protein segments. Furthermore, these patterns can be altered by changing the biological chemistry within the cells, and this impacts whether segments are presented to the immune system. My research involves sticking myelin proteins onto microscopic beads, having cells ingest these beads to chew up the proteins, then recover the beads and analyze how and where the proteins are cut. I will test whether certain genetic or environmental factors affect the pattern of myelin protein segments, and consequently how efficiently they are presented to immune cells. Using this method I aim to discover factors that could help reduce the production of dangerous patterns in MS patients in an effort to relieve symptoms and halt disease progression.

MicroRNA::RNA interactions within a pain-centered EAE mouse model: an unbiased predictive computational approach utilizing Next Generation Sequencing

Authors: Timothy Friedman, Muhammad Saad Yousuf, Ana Cantuneanu, Bradley Kerr

Up to 50% of MS patients develop a chronic pain syndrome alongside their primary symptoms. Understanding how these syndromes develop can be immensely useful in recognizing risk factors and can lead to potential therapeutics for pain. MicroRNAs (miRs) are a recently discovered biological molecule capable of regulating large amounts of genes: could these be the source of what goes wrong in ‘painful MS’? Our work investigates genes and miRs in the primary sensory neurons of a mouse model of MS, Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE). Using computational tools to identify patterns (or signatures) in the dysregulated genome, we can begin to ask questions about what the biological outcome of these changes are.
We identified a ‘common-core’ of genes and miRs that were dysregulated in EAE, which were almost identical for our male and female mice. This shows that there is widespread dysfunction of the genome that happens at the first site of pain processing within this disease. Animals who develop pain however, displayed a distinct signature compared to their ‘No Pain’ counterparts and these signatures were unique for each sex. Sex-specific signatures for pain suggest the need for sex-specific targeted pain management therapies. Overall, we highlight the power of computational analysis for genomic data and have generated many testable avenues of targeted research into the development of pain in EAE.

Understanding pain in MS – Looking through the lens of sensory cells in EAE

Authors: Muhammad Saad Yousuf, Katherine Mifflin, Klaus Ballanyi, Bradley J Kerr

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating condition of the nerves in which cells of the nervous system are attacked and often die, resulting in motor, cognitive, and sensory problems. A common sensory problem among MS patients is chronic pain which often deteriorates their quality of life. The mechanisms through which chronic pain arises in MS is currently not known. As a result, many therapies for pain are ineffective for individuals with MS. Pain sensing cells of the body or nociceptors relay painful information to the spinal cord and the brain for processing. We hypothesized that pain in MS may arise from increased activity of these nociceptors. To test this hypothesis, I analysed sensory cells from male and female mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a model of MS. I found that indeed sensory cells from female animals show heightened sensitivity and this sensitivity can be dampened if the mice exercise by running on a running wheel for 1 hour a day. Male sensory cells, however, do not show a similar phenomenon. On the same note, pain behaviours of females are reduced with running exercise but not male pain behaviours. To investigate this further, we found that immune cell profiles of male and female mice were very different. This indicates that immune cells in EAE – and MS – have different effects on sensory cells of males and females. To better treat pain in MS and develop more effective drugs, these sex differences need to be taken into consideration.

Oligodendrocytes can do more than make myelin

Authors: Saito, L.B., Monaco, M.C., McKenzie, B.A., Branton, W., Cohen, É.A.,

Major, E.O., Power, C.

Oligodendrocytes are cells that are found in the brain and spinal cord. The primary role of oligodendrocytes is to make myelin, a fatty protein layer that wraps around and protects nerve fibres. Innate immunity is the first line of immune response formed in response to microbial invasion or host alarm signals, including inflammatory compounds. In the brain and spinal cord, cells called microglia and astrocytes are assumed to be the predominant cells responsible for innate immunity. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease where the myelin is damaged by host immune responses and inflammation. Recent data and preliminary results suggest oligodendrocytes may also respond to inflammatory compounds found in MS conditions. These findings led to the hypothesis that oligodendrocytes display innate immune responses that are related to myelin protein formation. To test this, I exposed oligodendrocytes to an inflammatory compound that replicates an environment similar to the brain of a MS patient. I found oligodendrocytes have potential in generating a wide range of innate immune responses, including responses needed when cells die in an inflammatory way. When cells die in an inflammatory way it can harm nearby healthy cells. This response by oligodendrocytes was prevented when the cells were treated with an anti-inflammatory drug called VX-765. Overall, my research shows that oligodendrocytes can be involved in innate immune responses in the brain, which may bring new insights in MS disease development.

Turned inside-out: might injury to myelin trigger MS inflammation?

Authors: Andrew V. Caprariello, Rogers JA, Morgan ML, Hoghooghi V, Plemel JR, Koebel A, Tsutsui S, Dunn JF, Kotra LP, Ousman SS, Yong VW, Stys PK

The root cause of inflammation in multiple sclerosis (MS) remains mysterious. Popular theory holds that rogue immune cells are responsible for damage to myelin, the insulation around nerve cells. Consistent with this theory, a laboratory mouse model called experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) shows that immune cells instructed to attack myelin are capable of inflicting paralytic damage. However, the dependence of EAE on specific, artificial myelin proteins limits the identification of disease-relevant triggers, which restricts the translation of findings to those living with MS. Our goal was to test whether brain myelin that is degrading naturally could trigger inflammatory disease. To do so, rather than inject specific myelin proteins, we treated experimental mice with a compound called cuprizone that is commonly used to cause myelin damage. Cuprizone treatment was followed by an immune boost, identical to what is used in EAE except without added myelin peptides. Inflammation was then tracked by contrast MRI before brain tissues were harvested for signs of immune damage. Excitingly, mild myelin damage did indeed trigger immune attacks, providing important proof-of-concept that myelin damage may cause MS inflammation rather than the other way around, as has long been assumed. A drug therapy that prevented myelin unraveling also stopped the destructive immune response, thereby identifying a potential new strategy for combating MS inflammation. If the rodent data proves relevant to MS, our cuprizone-EAE model (CAE) provides a rationale for first-ever preventative therapies for individuals at-risk for MS but also as a strategy to promote myelin protection at any stage.

The brighter flower gets more butterflies: immune cell attraction in MS

Authors: Rhiannon Campden, Euan Allan, Robin Yates

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by immune cell recruitment into the brain where they damage sensitive nerve cells. Immune cells release signals to attract more immune cells into the brain, which causes increased damage and disease progression. These attractive signals can be likened to the colours and smells of flowers that plants use to attract butterflies and bees to visit. The brighter the flower, or the stronger the scent, the more butterflies will be attracted. Similarly, the amount and types of signals released from immune cells will change the types and number of cells that are recruited into the brain. One of the major attracting signals in MS is IL-1β, the same molecule that causes fever and fatigue when you are sick. Before IL-1β can act it must be activated by digestive proteins that remove a portion of the protein. I am studying a digestive protein (Cathepsin Z), which is involved in the production of IL-1β independent of digestion. Typically, digestive proteins are kept inside the cell in specialized compartments or in inactive states to prevent cell damage. However, I have found that Cathepsin Z is released from the cell and may act in a manner independent of protein digestion. In this context, I hypothesize that Cathepsin Z provides a signal from outside the cell into the cell to increase IL-1β. My goal is to determine how Cathepsin Z acts at the cell surface to enhance the production of IL-1β, and how this affects the immune cells causing MS.

Understanding what causes cells to go to the dark side

Authors: Alex Palmer and Shalina Ousman

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. The body attacks itself, specifically the myelin sheath, which is the layer that surrounds and insulates the nerve cells. These nerve cells are responsible for relaying signals throughout our body. When the myelin sheath is attacked, signals to various parts of our body can become weakened or lost, resulting in a variety of symptoms. One of the ways that this can occur is through inflammation, which can arise from a variety of different cells in the body. My project is focused on a specific cell in the brain and spinal cord called the astrocyte. In healthy conditions, astrocytes are responsible for making sure the brain and spinal cord function properly. In MS, they can become dysfunctional and begin to contribute to and initiate inflammation. The goal of my project is to identify what factors may be causing their dysfunction and how they may impact different aspects of inflammation in hopes of figuring out how to combat these effects.

Young Minds of MS Research is made possible through collaboration and partnership between the Alberta MS Network and the MS Society of Canada, Alberta and Northwest Territories Division.

Ask the Expert

Ask the Expert offers conference participants the opportunity to meet, one on one, with experts in a variety of fields. Interested participants are invited to sign up for 20-minute appointments, with an expert of their choice, during which they can ask questions and receive information and resources related to the expert’s field of practice.

Ask the Expert runs from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM on Saturday, September 22. Participants can sign up for appointments at 8:30 AM on Saturday, September 22. To ensure that all conference participants have equal opportunities to sign up and meet with experts, early sign up is not available.

Barb Foxall | Associate | World Financial Group

Barb is an experienced Associate with a demonstrated history of working in the financial services industry. Barb has had a successful career educating and supporting people with chronic conditions such as mental health, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, and Parkinson's Disease. She has now turned her focus to educating and supporting people in the areas of money and finance, particularly in providing insurance and sound investment advice to people who have been underserved by the industry (such as people with pre-existing conditions such as MS, seniors and new Canadians). Skilled in non-profit organizations, event planning, coaching, strategic planning, and event management, Barb is a strong professional with a CACE focused in Adult Education from University of Alberta.

Rianne Rogan BSc., CSEP-CEP | Rehabilitation Program Coordinator | University of Calgary

Rianne is a kinesiology graduate from the University of Calgary and a certified exercise physiologist. She has been working with MS clients for 8 years and running the Rehab and Fitness program at the U of C for seven years. Her passion is in adapted physical activity and she hopes to continue working in this field long-term, building on the opportunities available for clients with MS.

Tiffany LaFleur | Dietitian | Alberta Health Services

Tiffany has established the Dietitian’s role at the Calgary MS Clinic at South Health Campus since its founding in 2012. She has over 10 years of experience as a Dietitian with Alberta Health Services and is considered one of the experts in Nutrition for Neurosciences in Alberta. Tiffany is passionate about supporting patients in optimizing their health through nutrition. Tiffany uses the latest evidence-based approaches while focusing on her client’s preferences and needs to support their quality of life. She has the pleasure of leading many Neurology-specific cooking groups at the Wellness Center at South Health Campus and hopes you will join her! Tiffany can also connect you with free dietitian services available in and around Calgary.

Dr. Robin Vinge | Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Robin Vinge obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Victoria in 1993. She went on to complete a doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine in 1998 from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. As a naturopathic doctor, she uses a wide range of modalities to treat patients including bio-therapeutic drainage, herbal medicine, homeopathy, emotional freedom technique, therapeutic touch, and therapeutic nutrition to treat patients. Viewing illness as a key to transformation, Dr. Vinge helps patients uncover the root causes of why they are unwell, so that their healing process can be a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Dr. Vinge hosts lunch and learn lectures as an independent consultant, on wellness-related topics for oil and gas companies in Calgary. She has also developed and facilitated a mind/body clinic for the MS Society Calgary chapter. Dr. Vinge’s practice is located at Parallel Health and Wellness clinic in downtown Calgary, Alberta.

Chance Bellegarde | Career Consultant | Calgary Alternative Employment Services Since 2009 Chance has been a Career Consultant with Calgary Alternative Employment Services, where he has worked to promote employment inclusion for people with barriers. Combined with an education in Business Management his knowledge and experience spans across the fields of Diversity and Inclusion to working in Employment and Training Centers. He is passionate about collaborating with and developing strong relationships with the business community. Calgary Alternative Employment Services (CAES) started in 1998 to get people out of segregation, isolation and poverty and into jobs they had unique talent for. CAES paired human service values and innovation with an understanding of human resource practices and business needs. Their commitment to job seekers is to help them overcome the barriers which interfere with employment inclusion. Their commitment to employers is based in inclusive recruitment and on-boarding support as well as employee performance, engagement and retention.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the information provided in this session does not represent the opinion of the MS Society of Canada and is not intended as medical advice. For specific advice and opinion, always consult a physician. Experts or the MS Society cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations. The information is intended for general information purposes only, and does not constitute medical, legal, accounting or tax advice or opinions on any specific matters. Persons requiring diagnosis or treatment or with questions specific to a single individual are urged to contact their local health care provider, accountant or lawyer for appropriate advice and care. Laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on facts and circumstances involved. The Multiple Sclerosis Society and experts are not responsible for the applicability of advice or treatment and accuracy of information as it relates to your specific situation.

Vendor Fair

MS Connect '18 features a Vendor Fair on Saturday, September 22 from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM. A variety of vendors will provide displays and have a wealth of knowledge, expertise and equipment that are all geared towards supporting you along your MS journey. We invite you to check out the vendors and see what they have to offer!

MS Connect '18 vendors include:

Edward Jones

Cate is a Financial Advisor with Edward Jones. She provides financial solutions for individuals and families living with a disability. 80% of Cate’s clients are people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities.

Using an established process to build personalized financial strategies, Cate helps her clients prioritize and balance the use of their assets to provide not only a quality life for the family member with a disability, but to also secure education, retirement, tax and estate planning for the rest of the family.


CoolChicks Concepts Inc. are leaders in the creation of innovative personal cooling products. Their signature products, wrapMeCool® wraps and neck scarves are stylish, versatile and easy to use. Made of the finest 100% cotton, they are designed to be worn damp in order to provide instant and effective cooling of the body.

Jill Church, an Australian Registered Nurse with 35 years’ experience, and Gwen Roland, a Canadian with a background in healthcare, met in Vancouver in 2014 while caring for a mutual friend after open heart surgery.

In an effort to deal with the intense discomfort of hot flashes, Jill had developed the idea of dampening a piece of fine 100% cotton and wrapping it around herself. She practically lived in her wrap and Gwen would frequently remark what a great idea it was and that many others would also benefit from the cooling effect it provided.

Jill and Gwen soon realized there were no cooling products available that could be worn on social occasions, to work and during recreational activities. After extensive research they found natural cotton with the perfect weave to retain moisture without clinging to the skin and WrapMeCool was born!

Jill and Gwen are passionate about contributing to the health and wellness of others and their vision was to create an effective, non-medical but stylish solution to the distressing effects of over-heating. They are strong supporters of the MS community in Australia and Canada.

Cool Chicks Concepts a proud Canadian company that manufactures in Vancouver.

Voxx Socks

The development of VOXX HPT has been a 6 year journey which began with a man trying to help his mom with her MS. They reviewed and studied decades of research in brain stem functionality and the peripheral nervous system. They also reviewed the latest research in sensory mechano-receptor mapping, brain activity correlated to acupuncture, as well as dermatome stimulation and the different somatic pathways. They also studied secondary and free receptors and related nervous and brain activity.

VOXX HPT is a very specific sequence and pattern of neuroreceptor activation on the bottom of the feet that triggers a signal that aides in the brainstem reaching homeostasis. The VOXX HPT pattern is woven or molded into different iterations of products including hosiery and footwear accessories.

The documented results and benefits arising from the products incorporating the VOXX HPT pattern include enhanced pain relief and management, especially PDN (painful diabetic neuropathy) pain, enhanced postural stability and balance, and improved mobility and overall energy levels.

The instant you step on the HPT Technology you will experience 31% improved balance and stability, 22% more power, 17% velocity of force, 17% eccentric force, 15 degress range of motion, and 98% of our clients from our scientific studies experienced foot pain relief.



EMD Serono

Alberta Blue Cross

Sanofi Genzyme

Amica at Aspen Woods



Silver Cross Automotive

Canadian Cannabis Clinics


Sobeys Pharmacy

Calgary Transit Access

City of Calgary Fitness & Recreation


To register for MS Connect ’18, please click the link below. The link will take you to the MS Connect '18 event page on Eventbrite - the official MS Connect conference registration platform. Please note that the ticket price includes conference registration and parking at Mount Royal University on Friday, September 21 in the evening and all day on Saturday, September 22.

To register, please click HERE.

Early Registration Opens – Monday, May 7, 2018

Early Registration Ends – Friday, August 10, 2018

Online Registration Ends – Monday, September 17, 2018

MS Connect ’18 Subsidy

To support individuals living with multiple sclerosis who would like to attend the conference but would be unable to due to financial constraints, the MS Society of Canada, Alberta & NWT Division is happy to offer an MS Connect ‘18 Conference Subsidy. Subsidy applications will be accepted for review until Friday, August 31. Successful applicants will be notified within 2-3 weeks of the MS Society receiving their complete application. For further details about the subsidy and to apply, please click on the link below.

Subsidy Application


Conference Hotel Information

MS Connect ’18 has partnered with a local hotel close to the venue to provide an accommodation option for conference attendees travelling from out of town.

Grey Eagle Casino and Resort

Located on the beautiful Tsuu T’ina First Nation, nestled on the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains and at the convenient location of 37 Street & Glenmore Trail S.W., the Grey Eagle has a number of accessible rooms and offers shuttle services to and from Mount Royal University (MRU) - site of MS Connect ’18. When booking your room, please mention that you are attending MS Connect ’18.

Address: 3777 Grey Eagle Drive

Toll Free: 1.844.719.8777

Hotel Main Line: 403.719.8883

Reservations: 403.719.8777


Directions to Hotel


  • South on Deerfoot Trail
  • Head west onto Glenmore Trail
  • Head south on 37 Street SW


  • East on the #1 Highway (16 Avenue)
  • Head south onto Sarcee Trail
  • Head south on 37 Street SW


  • North on Deerfoot Trail
  • Take the west exit onto Glenmore Trail
  • Head south on 37 Street SW


  • North on Deerfoot Trail
  • Take the west exit onto Glenmore Trail
  • Head south on 37 Street SW

Maps & Driving Directions

MS Connect '18 is taking place at Ross Glen Hall in the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning (EC Building), located on Mount Royal Circle (near the East Gate), which can be reached via Crowchild Trail SW to 50 Avenue SW. For driving directions, please visit Google Maps.

The street address is 4825 Mt Royal Gate SW, Calgary, AB, T3E 7N5. MS Society volunteers will be located around the hall and roadway to help direct you to the venue and parking.

Parking Information

Parking is available for conference attendees and the fee for parking is built into the conference registration fee. The parking lots available at MRU for MS Connect '18 are Lot 8 and the East Gate Parkade (both located next to the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning). For more information about parking, please visit the Parking & Transportation website.

Please note that vehicles without permits that are parked in permit spaces may be ticketed. Further parking details will be provided closer to the conference dates, along with information about displaying parking permits within vehicles.

Calgary Information

The City of Calgary is full of attractions for visitors of all ages. At your convenience, we encourage you to spend extra days checking out the below activities.

Calaway Park

Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden and Prehistoric Park

East Village

Grey Eagle Resort and Casino

Heritage Park Historical Village


Kensington Village

17th Ave Retail and Entertainment District


Looking to stay informed about the latest MS Connect ’18 conference updates? The MS Society of Canada, Alberta & Northwest Territories Division invites you to subscribe our e-newsletter, MS Connect – AB & NWT News. This e-newsletter provides our members, stakeholders and the MS community with information about upcoming events, including the conference, research advancements and stories from across Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Sign up here.

We are indebted to our sponsors for their generous support of the conference. Without this support, in monetary and product in kind, the conference would simply not be possible.


MS Connect ’18 is sponsored by unrestricted educational grants. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is an independent, voluntary health agency and does not approve, endorse or recommend any specific product or therapy but provides information to assist individuals in making their own decisions.