Riding to fuel multiple sclerosis research

Last edited: 20 July 2016

Every year, thousands of cyclists ride in the BP MS 150, pedalling 180 miles across Texas, US, to bring hope to people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Dr. Bruce Bebo, executive vice president of research at the National MS Society, shares how the bike ride has helped fuel promising research initiatives

Multiple sclerosis — a chronic, unpredictable disease that attacks the central nervous system — affects about 2.3 million people worldwide. Dr. Bebo has both professional and personal connections to MS; he was inspired to study the disease after he saw his mother diagnosed when he was a teenager. Today, he leads the MS Society’s extensive research portfolio, which currently includes about 380 different projects and commitments totalling more than $80 million.

The BP MS 150 — part of Bike MS, the largest charity cycling series in the world — is the biggest event of its kind in North America and has raised more than $224 million for the MS Society. Since taking over as the ride’s title sponsor in 2001, BP and Team BP riders have contributed more than $16 million to support MS research and programs. 

Bebo explains to BP Magazine how investments made possible by fundraisers such as the BP MS 150 have helped accelerate research and trigger breakthroughs that are making a difference for people living with MS — and bringing them closer to a cure than ever before.

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

For example, more than 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now, there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.
 

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

 

“The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

 

“For example, over 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.” 

What has been the biggest challenge in trying to find a cure for MS?

We’ve learned that all of the treatments tested in the progressive form of MS have been unsuccessful. Many researchers think that neurodegeneration, or degeneration of the nervous tissue, is what’s driving the progressive form of the disease, which is characterized by a gradual change in functional ability over time.

This could mean that it has parallels with other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. We’re applying some of the approaches that have been translated from research in those diseases to progressive-based MS, with some success in early clinical studies. That’s something we would not have been even talking about 20 years ago.

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

 

“The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

 

“For example, over 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.” 

What are some of the highlights?

We support the International MS Genetics Consortium, which has adopted a global, collaborative approach to identifying the inherited risk factors for MS. In order to better understand the genetics behind the disease, it takes global cooperation to acquire enough samples to be able to make sense of it all. Now we have identified more than 200 genetic risk factors for MS, and research is shifting now to understand how these genes interact with other factors to cause MS, and using the genes to identify new treatment targets.

In addition, three years ago we launched the International Progressive MS Alliance, which corrals global resources from MS societies around the world to focus attention on the challenges related to developing therapies for progressive MS. We’re beginning to make targeted investments in areas of research that have the highest probability of leading to new solutions.

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

 

“The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

 

“For example, over 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.” 

What are the most significant advancements currently being made in MS research?

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

 

“The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

 

“For example, over 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.” 

One of the most prominent areas of research right now is related to promoting the natural repair of the nervous systems of people living with MS. The investments that we’ve made in the last 10 years are now leading to successful clinical trials in this area. The strategy of inhibiting inflammation and promoting repair should dramatically alter the proportion of people who evolve into the progressive form of MS.

In addition to that, the research we’re seeing in neuro-protective strategies has already started providing clues into how we’re going to stop or slow down progression once it’s started.

I’m optimistic that in the next few years we’ll have disease-modifying strategies for people living with the progressive form of MS.

How has our understanding of MS changed over the years?

 

“The advancements in our knowledge of MS have accelerated dramatically in the last two decades. That acceleration is due, in part, to the strong research investments made over the years. We continue to invest in basic research and also in translational and clinical research so that we can continue to speed up our progress toward finding solutions for people living with MS. We couldn’t do this without the support of each rider in fundraising events like the BP MS 150, and the support of sponsors such as BP.

 

“For example, over 20 years ago we didn’t have any disease-modifying therapies for MS. Now there are many treatment options for relapsing MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and growing awareness of the importance of lifestyle and wellness activities that can benefit people with all forms of MS. That has been an incredible renaissance.” 

What other breakthroughs could be on the horizon?

There is still a lot of progress to be made. I think in five years we’ll be talking about disease-modifying treatments that are actually repairing nervous system damage, and perhaps being used in combination with strategies for reducing the inflammatory aspects of the disease. I think combining anti-inflammatory treatments, many of which are already available, with repair-promoting treatments will be a potent one-two punch that will change the lives of people who have MS.

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