ACTRIMS Forum 2017 to Focus on Diet, Genetics, and the Microbiome in MS

Deborah Brauser

February 17, 2017

The second annual stand-alone meeting of the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) will be offering cutting-edge research in the same warm locale that is home to some of the country's biggest theme parks.

ACTRIMS Forum 2017 will be held February 23 through 25 in Orlando, Florida, and carries the theme "Environmental Factors, Genetics, and Epigenetics in MS Susceptibility and Clinical Course."

"This year's focus is on factors that precipitate multiple sclerosis attacks or lead to the onset of disease," program chair, Benjamin M. Segal, MD, professor of neurology and director of the MS Center at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Segal added that more than 750 participants have signed up to attend, with the expectation that up to 100 more will register on site, based on last year’s numbers.

"We're very excited about this year's meeting and about the tremendous momentum that has been building in this field," he said.

Hot Topics

Dr Segal reported that, fitting under the "Environmental Factors" heading in this year's theme, diet will be a big issue at the meeting.

A session that includes examinations of vitamin D supplementation as disease-modifying therapy, dietary fats and susceptibility to MS, and sodium chloride intake, will be presented on Friday, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Also important, noted Dr Segal, is the association between the microbiome and MS, which is getting its own session Saturday morning. Topics scheduled to be presented include probiotics as a therapy for MS and "the gut and pediatric MS."

In addition, the first presentation during Friday afternoon's Cutting Edge Development in MS Research session, which will feature the meeting's late-breaking clinical trials, will on the MS-associated gut microbiome. It will be presented by Sergio E. Baranzini, PhD, from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), at 4 p.m.

"The bacteria that live in our bodies produce a lot of factors that affect the immune system. And that in turn could potentially alter immune responses to myelin proteins, which we believe is the basis of MS," said Dr Segal.

"This raises the possibility that altering the bacterial flow, the type of bacteria that is present in the intestine, through dietary changes or use of probiotics could have either a beneficial or negative effect on MS."

The other two late-breaking presentations will be on predicting visual function outcomes in MS by Christian Cordano, MD, from UCSF and the University of Genoa, Italy, and spinal cord gray matter atrophy in the early stages of MS by Regina Schlaeger, MD, from UCSF and the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland.

Dr Segal noted that other important areas of focus throughout the meeting will include the following:

  • Hormones and sex chromosomes, with talks on risk factors and therapeutic targets on Friday at 10 a.m.;

  • Microbial infections, with presentations on the human endogenous retrovirus and evidence linking human herpesvirus--6 with MS on Friday at 2 p.m.; and

  • Genetics and epigenetics, with discussions to include MS-specific DNA methylation in immune cells and genes that regulate vitamin D levels and risk for MS on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

"There's some evidence of effects from both estrogen and testosterone on the critical course of MS, and some epidemiological data that suggest that events occurring around the age of puberty could hold some predictive value regarding risk and course," said Dr Segal.

"There's also a growing field around sex chromosomes themselves. And all of those topics are going to be covered at the meeting."

"The Age of B-Cell Therapy"

Last year, a lot of attention was paid to the humanized monoclonal antibody ocrelizumab (Ocrevus, Roche) and further results from its ORATORIO trial. This year's Kenneth P. Johnson Memorial Lecture will be given by one of the trial's investigators, Stephen Hauser, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology at UCSF.

His presentation, titled "MS in the Age of B-Cell Therapy," is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.

"Dr Hauser has been very involved from the earliest stages in these drugs. And they're getting closer and closer to being used in the clinical setting," said Dr Segal.

Ocrelizumab is under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he noted, "So the timing is great to hear from Dr Hauser, who is one of the most widely recognized experts on that particular therapeutic approach in MS."

He also pointed out the importance of this year's two poster sessions and of the Young Investigators' Session, which is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. on Thursday. It will include eight presentations on topics that range from using diffusion tensor imaging to quantify effects of stem cell transplantation to a study on early evidence of MS in high-risk family members.

Busy Year

This will be a busy year for ACTRIMS. In addition to this meeting, the organization will be partnering with the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ECTRIMS) for the MSParis2017 meeting, which be held in October.

"That occurs about every 3 years," said Dr Segal, adding that ACTRIMS will also continue their new tradition of holding its own standalone meeting next year. Sticking with the idea of holding the conference in a sunny locale, ACTRIMS Forum 2018 will be in San Diego, California.

For the current meeting and the field overall, Dr Segal again noted his excitement.

"When I was in training as a resident, there was nothing we could do that would modify the disease or help us predict susceptibility," said Dr Segal.

"But now we're on the verge of having our 15th FDA-approved drug that actually modifies the course of MS," he said. "And we're getting more and more refined in understanding the genes that someone can inherit that will increase their susceptibility."

Along with diet and other environmental factors, these discoveries "will better serve the community and people with MS — and to one day intervene to prevent MS from individuals," he concluded.

The meeting is being held at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, which provides a free shuttle to the Walt Disney World theme parks.

Medscape Medical News will be onsite beginning Thursday, February 23. Follow Deborah Brauser on Twitter: @MedscapeDeb or Twitter. Or join us on Facebook.

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