NMSS and Kessler Team Up to Study Fatigue and the Brain for MS Patients

We recently introduced you to a few key themes that have emerged from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s brain research funding to help you navigate the grantseeking process for the next round of deadlines. We'd like to introduce you to a researcher who exemplifies those themes, who just secured NMSS funding. This researcher is also affiliated with a major neurological disability organization that just happens to be a disability funder we’ve covered at IP.

Related: Three Things to Know about National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Research Grants

A research scientist involved in traumatic brain injury research at the Kessler Foundation caught NMSS’s attention and received a three-year, $408,000 grant to study factors that influence fatigue in MS patients. Her name is Ekaterina Dobryakova, Ph.D., and she specializes in cognitive issues in MS and brain injury.

Her study is significant because it is the first of its kind to explore feedback presentation, which is a factor that may make MS patients feel fatigued. Dobryakova will study whether brain activity associated with dopamine levels rises and fatigue decreases when using feedback presentation, which is a non-pharmacological intervention. Not only is this study relevant for MS patients, but also potentially for patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, and cancer too.

Dr. Dobryakova explained:

Individuals with MS and healthy participants will undergo a brain scan while performing a learning task with two feedback conditions (monetary and non-monetary feedback) and a no-feedback condition. Training individuals to recognize the onset of fatigue and its impact on task performance will help us develop effective interventions. One possibility is that by visualizing the rewards of positive feedback, individuals with MS can activate the relevant neural pathway in their brains and counter fatigue. Because this type of intervention relies entirely on internal cognitive mechanisms, the unwanted side effects of medications would be avoided.

In the realm of philanthropy, the Kessler Foundation is best known for funding employment initiatives for people with disabilities. However, the foundation is also deeply into MS research, which makes NMSS an ideal collaborative partner for this sort of research work.

Related: How the Kessler Foundation kicked off 2016 with Targeted Employment Grants

Cognitive rehabilitation research at the Kessler Foundation is funded through grants from NMSS and several other funders. These include the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, Consortium of MS Centers, the Patterson Trust, Biogen Idec, Hearst Foundation, and the International Progressive MS Alliance. There’s even a rehabilitation research center at the Kessler Foundation, the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center, that’s solely dedicated to addressing issues of cognitive and mobility impairments that affect quality of life.

There’s clearly an interesting relationship between NMSS and Kessler, here, and a big push for both pilot studies and rehabilitation research. This is a significant time for brain researchers everywhere, as March has been designated Brain Injury Awareness Month and the first week of March is MS Awareness Week. If you’re involved of this field of research, pay attention in the coming months to what these two foundations are doing and their connections to other affiliated funders, such as the Biogen Idec and Hearst Foundation.