ACTRIMS Forum to Focus on Precision Medicine in MS

Nancy A. Melville

February 27, 2019

DALLAS — The fourth annual Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2019 gets underway this week in Dallas, Texas, with a packed agenda focused on advancing the understanding of MS diagnosis and management.

With an expected attendance of more than 1000, the ACTRIMS Forum sets itself apart from other medical meetings by offering the unique format of a single track of scientific and clinical presentations, with an interactive environment, organizers say.

This year's theme of "Precision Medicine Approaches for MS: Scientific Principles to Clinical Application," will manifest in an informative array of sessions and activities to boost knowledge of the latest in evidence-based practices.

Precision Medicine From All Angles

The first of several sessions to focus on the topic will feature a series of talks on applications of precision medicine in the fields of oncology and rheumatology, and how lessons learned in those specialties can serve to guide its use in the treatment of MS.

Another session on "Precision Diagnosis in MS" will delve into emerging pathological, genetic, and immunologic biomarkers that distinguish MS from other neuroimmunologic diseases.

And still another session, "Algorithms Informing Precision Management of MS," will look at innovative advances, including biosensors for measuring disease activity; how large MRI datasets can inform precision medicine; and a talk from Ming Jack Po, of Google, who will look at the intriguing issue of using artificial intelligence in the diagnosis and treatment of neurologic diseases.

Novel developments will be explored in the "Emerging Concepts in MS" session, where attendees will learn about "The 'Central Vein Sign' in Inflammatory Demyelination: The Role of Fibrillar Collagen Type I" and how accelerated cord atrophy shows importance as preceding conversion to secondary progressive disease in relapsing MS.

And a session entitled "Cutting Edge Developments" will include talks ranging from "Flow Cytometry of Ex Vivo MS Brain" to "Fast Sub-Millimeter Whole-Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Novel Biomarkers for Multiple Sclerosis," the latter presented by Pascal Sati, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The significant heterogeneity in the course of MS among patients will be investigated in a session called "MS Disease Course Endophenotypes," with talks focusing on the evolving science of "Retinal Imaging for MS Diagnosis and Monitoring," and the various "Immunobiological and Radiological Markers of MS Endophenotypes."

Neural Mechanisms in MS and Tailored Treatment

The forum's annual keynote address — the Kenneth P. Johnson Memorial Lecture — will be delivered by neurologist Rhonda Voskuhl, MD, director of the MS Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, who will speak on "Tailored Disability-Specific Neuroprotective Treatment Development in MS."

The talk will explore Voskuhl's compelling hypothesis that regional differences in neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes may dictate the molecular mechanisms that underlie specific disabilities.

And the forum's National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) Barancik Award presentation will be given by this year's winner, Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, a leading researcher at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Akassoglou was granted the award based on her compelling research on fibrin, which can leak from damage in the blood–brain barrier, and is deposited in MS lesions, notes a statement from NMSS on the award. The work of her group has shown fibrin deposits inhibit natural nervous system repair, and can activate immune cells and microglia, causing inflammation and nerve damage.

Akassoglou and her team are working on a fibrin-targeting antibody that could have important implications in the treatment of MS, and has already been shown in mice to decrease microglial activation and nerve fiber damage.

"While others dismissed the idea that blood factors could be involved in the nervous system damage in MS, Dr Akassoglou saw this as an important clue and has relentlessly pursued the idea and is now using this knowledge to translate her discoveries into possible therapies for MS," said Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president at the National MS Society, which administers the award.

"Her tireless pursuit of a fundamental question in MS and the tenacity to translate this knowledge into potential therapies is why she is being recognized with this year's Barancik Prize."

Young Investigators Promoted

In addition to the scientific sessions and lectures, there will be an exhibit hall full of more than 300 posters describing the latest efforts of research in progress, and the work of young investigators will be further highlighted in the forum's first session, with platform presentations of selected abstracts.  

Activities to help further support the neurologists in training will include the "Neurology Resident Summit in Multiple Sclerosis," offering information on clinical and investigative neuroimmunology opportunities.

Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) Forum 2019. February 28–March 2, 2019.

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