The Neuro marks May - Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month


The Neuro marks May - Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

“The advances that have been made in the last couple of years alone, and the options available, give me reason to be hopeful,” says Jennifer Pevec, a marathon runner in Montreal who was diagnosed with MS in 2005 and subsequently received treatment at The Neuro.  “I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams that I would be able to run again.  But thanks to this new medication and carbon-fiber leg braces, I am.” …read Jennifer Pevec’s story.

Facts about Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

·         MS attacks parts of a person’s brain and spinal cord, typically causing extreme fatigue, visual and sensory problems, disequilibrium and eventually a loss of muscle control to the point of paralysis.

·         MS is seen far more in higher latitudes.  Canada has one of the world’s highest national rates -about 1,100 new cases each year.  Approximately 50,000 Canadians have MS.  More than one in five lives in Quebec. 

·         MS is one of the most common neurological diseases among young Canadians.  Children as young as two can develop MS, but the disease typically strikes people ], between the ages of 15 and 40.

·         Women are twice as likely as men to develop MS.

·         The cause of MS is still unknown, but scientific evidence suggests that a major component is an auto-immune disease that affects myelin, a substance coating axons, the thin strands that carry signals between nerve cells in the brain.

·         MS has several forms:

1.      Relapsing-remitting MS at onset:  the most common form, in which periods of acute symptoms alternate with periods of remission of variable duration although generally the disease will progress over time.

2.      Primary progressive MS:  the rarest form-symptoms worsen steadily from onset with no remissions.

3.      Secondary progressive MS:  this form occurs in patients with relapsing-remitting onset.  Eventually their symptoms progress steadily without further remissions.

·         Some drugs can temporarily help to control symptoms or to extend remission periods.

·         MS can be detected in its early stages by M R I scans that reveal scars in the nervous system that are typical of the disease.

Canada’s First MS Clinic

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro operates the country’s oldest clinic devoted to MS patients.  Each year, The Neuro’s clinic treats some two thousand patients. 

Under the direction of Dr. Yves Lapierre, the MS Clinic has a multidisciplinary staff of neurologists, nurse specialists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers.  A multidisciplinary approach ensures the best way to help not only patients suffering from reduced mobility, but families trying to cope with the needs of their afflicted loved ones. 

Patients may participate in important clinical trials of new MS drugs at The Neuro’s Clinical Research Unit (CRU).

Cutting-edge MS Research

More than 50 members of The Neuro’s staff are conducting multi-pronged laboratory and clinical studies related to MS.  They employ the finest scientific technology in the world,from brain imaging scanners to the latest cell biology tools in order-to study the disease from all angles and at every stage.  The Neuro’s basic scientists and clinical physicians cooperate closely to translate research into clinical therapies.

Here are brief descriptions of some outstanding MS research at The Neuro:

Engineering Neural Connections

The laboratory of The Neuro’s director, Dr. David Colman, has made a breakthrough in finding a way to repair damaged nerve cells, a major problem in medicine today. Using neuro-engineering, Dr. Colman has created an artificial synapse or nerve cell connection– which is a significant advance towards linking nerves to a microchip - and ultimately a solution for nerve cell repair. Further engineering could lead to the creation of an artificial axonal network to replace axons damaged by MS. 

Understanding Myelin Maintenance

The Neuro’s researchers have identified a new biochemical mechanism that helps to maintain myelin.  They are investigating whether stimulating this mechanism might promote myelin repair-potentially a major breakthrough in MS treatment. 

The Fingolimod Factor

Research by Véronique Miron and her colleagues at The Neuro found that the experimental drug fingolimod appeared to enhance re-myelination in mouse brain slices. 

Childhood MS

Dr. Amit Bar-Or of The Neuro leads a major national study with international collaboration that revealed a gene whose presence in children increases their risk of developing MS in childhood.  Among children who have an initial attack of demyelination, only one out of five is subsequently found to have MS.  This risk increases substantially if the child has the HLA-DRB1 gene, a discovery that could help physicians to distinguish between isolated episodes and pediatric-onset MS.

MS and B Cells

Another international collaborative study led by Dr. Amit Bar-Or uncovered new roles for B cells in MS patients.   B cells are components of the immune system.  The study explained why patients whose B cells were therapeutically removed experienced substantially fewer new MS symptoms. 

MS Researchers at The Neuro

Dr. Yves Lapierre, director, MS Clinic.  A neurologist, Dr. Lapierre undertakes clinical drug trials and designs programs that prescribe MS drugs in the most effective way to prevent relapses.

Dr. Jack Antel, neurologist, examines human nerve and immune cells to understand how their interactions contribute to MS.  He studies the role of glial cells in the nervous system, as well as the variables that contribute to remyelination.

Dr. Douglas Arnold, neurologist.  Using the latest brain-imaging techniques, Dr. Arnold diagnoses and tracks MS lesions in the brain, and analyzes the effectiveness of MS therapies.

Dr. Amit Bar-Or, neurologist and immunologist, researches the properties of immune cells, stem cells and their interactions with nerve cells.  He directs The Neuro’s Experimental Therapeutics Program which translates basic science findings into the development of novel therapies for MS.

Dr. David Colman, research scientist and Director of The Neuro, examines myelin repair to see how signal transmission to the central nervous system can be improved.

Dr. Alyson Fournier, research scientist, studies the nature of nerve cell injuries.  She is looking for ways to repair nerve cells damaged by MS.

Dr. Tim Kennedy, research scientist, investigates how myelin forms during nerve cell development, and how it is maintained in the mature brain.  His research aims to promote mechanisms to promote remyelination.

About the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

The Neuro is an academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience.  As a research and teaching institute of McGill University, The Neuro is at the centre of the neuroscience mission of the McGill University Health Centre.  The eminent neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield founded The Neuro in 1934.  Since then, The Neuro has achieved international renown for its integration of research, outstanding patient care and advanced training.  The Neuro has a world-class staff in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience, as well as in the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders.  For more information, please visit

Contact Information

Anita Kar
The Neuro
anita.kar [at]