Research, robotics and reminders of the importance of self-care were the topics explored with the one hundred and twenty attendees at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of WA (MSWA) annual Perth Members’ Forum held in South Perth on Wednesday 4 June.
Marcus Stafford our CEO welcomed everyone and proudly pointed out that MSWA has again allocated over $1million dollars to research this year; $1.25 million in fact!
Dr Lisa Melton, Research Development Manager at Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia (MS Research Australia), began the morning with an overview of current Australian research projects looking at the prevention, treatment and cure of MS.
With the aim to prevent or modify the risk of developing MS, Dr Melton cited national and international research studies which are investigating the role of genetics. A recent study concluded genes are responsible for approximately 54% of the risk of developing MS. The immune system and environmental factors also play a large role in determining who develops MS. Projects like ANZgene are collecting data to help understand not only the role of genes in developing MS, but also how genes interact to switch on or off or modify immune cells which are currently known to be involved in the inflammation process that causes damage to the Central Nervous System (CNS).
The role of Vitamin D in possibly preventing MS, or at least slowing progression, is another hot topic in Australian MS research. PrevANZ is a collaboration between 20 of MS research centres in Australia and New Zealand. This research effort is currently investigating the possibility of using Vitamin D to prevent further MS relapses in people who have had only one attack. MS Research Australia is funding this project and MSWA is a major funding contributor to this research.
In terms of treating MS, Dr Melton talked about a number of research projects occurring across Australia which are looking at how damage to the tissue of the CNS could possibly be repaired. Gathering the results of stem cell research and treatments, to form a national and international database is one way in which Australian researchers are contributing to an international effort to work towards a cure for MS. Researchers are also already looking at methods of repairing and protecting elements of the nervous system affected by MS, which Dr Melton suggests may involve a deeper understanding of the interaction between genetic, environmental and immune factors.
Dr Melton was keen to reassure Members that although most of these current projects involve or affect people living with the relapsing-remitting form of MS, Australia is making research contributions to the latest international effort to better understand, and develop treatments for, the progressive forms of MS; for which there are currently no therapies available to alter the course of this form of MS.
As people living with MS await the outcomes of research across Australia, researchers such as Professor Souyma Ghosh are working on exciting new rehabilitation strategies that may slow deterioration or even help regain lost function in people affected by MS and other neurological conditions. Professor Ghosh, a neurologist whose research is based at the Western Australian Neuroscience Research Institute (WANRI), explained how his team of clinicians are studying the use of robotic arms, computerised balance machines and transcranial magnetic stimulation devices to enhance rehabilitation techniques already used by physiotherapists. “This technology enables us to accurately and objectively monitor the patient’s progress and provide feedback to both the clinician and the patient” said Dr Ghosh.
Dr Ghosh outlined how this technology can be used to assess, monitor and train arm movements and improve balance in some patients. “The aim is to link these improvements to everyday functions, like being able to button up a shirt or reduce the risk of falls due to balance problems.” Sue Shapland, General Manager for Member Services at MSWA, announced that people with MS in WA interested in being assessed for involvement in this research, and undergoing the balance assessment and rehabilitation program in particular, may be able to access the trial through the Physiotherapy Department of the MS Society. Thanks to funds raised, MSWA has recently leased the Balance Master technology, like the one used at WANRI. For more information about the program and eligibility criteria, please contact physio on 9365 4888.
To round off the morning, Leonie Wellington, MSWA Counsellor, focused on what people living with MS can do right now to manage themselves in a kind and positive way. Citing the National Chronic Disease Strategy and the WA Self-Management Strategic Framework (WA Health Department), Leonie described self-management as “the active participation of people in their own healthcare”. By having a good understanding of MS and taking action to manage its impact on their physical, emotional, social and working life, people living with MS are able to make adjustments when necessary. This reduces stress levels and increases resilience to the challenges in life.
“Although some of the consequences of MS cannot be controlled, it is important to recognise what can be managed. As MS is a long-term condition, these have to be managed on a daily basis. Just looking at things from a different point of view can be helpful.”
For more information on any of the topics presented at the MSWA Perth Members Forum 2014, visit mswa.org.au or call us on 9365 4888 to speak to one of our health team professionals.
Dr Lisa Melton's presentation from the Perth Members' Forum