UBC researchers explore cognitive impairment and medication adherence in MS patients

Two groups of researchers at the Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) have received funding from multiple sclerosis charities to explore different aspects of the disease – cognitive impairment and medicine adherence.

Cognitive impairment

Martin McKeown

Led by Alex MacKay, a Professor in the Department of Radiology, and Martin McKeown, a Professor in the Division of Neurology, this study will involve a collaboration with Parkinson’s researchers to explore how the brain’s regions communicate with one another.

UBC-VCH researchers in MS are well-known for their expertise in imaging brain myelin – the key part of the brain affected with MS. But looking at myelin changes alone did not always predict which people would suffer cognitive declines. The researchers suspect that only by looking at both myelin and distributed processing together will it be possible to predict cognitive vulnerability in MS patients.

Determining MRI-based markers of cognitive impairment may lead to better assessment of disease-modifying therapies. And, by identifying patients who are at risk for cognitive difficulties (about 45 per cent to 65 per cent of MS patients), more suitable therapy aimed at cognitive treatment and rehabilitation could be administered.

Dr. MacKay, Director of the UBC MRI Research Centre, has pioneered the field of myelin water imaging and MRI imaging of white matter. Dr. McKeown, Clinical Director of the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre, has extensive experience with functional MRI (fMRI) imaging to assess altered connectivity in neurological patient populations.

The researchers have been awarded a three-year, $282,562 grant from the MS Society of Canada to better determine which MS patients are at risk of cognitive decline.

Medication adherence

Helen Tremlett

Led by Charity Evans, who is just completing a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC, and Helen Tremlett, an Associate Professor in the Division of Neurology, this study will combine the expertise of neurologists, pharmacists, researchers and biostatisticians from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Although there is a wide body of research focusing on how different drug therapies control MS, very little is known about how individuals with MS actually use or adhere to these medications. The study will identify specific factors or patient characteristics that affect adherence, and the impact that adherence has on health care service utilization and disease progression in individuals with MS.

The results will also be useful for developing new strategies to optimize adherence to MS medications, and assist in the design and analysis of future studies involving MS medications.

The three-year grant from the U.S. National Multiple Sclerosis Society is $286,059 (U.S.).

Dr. Tremlett, a Canada Research Chair in MS and Neuroepidemiology, is a member of the Brain Research Centre at Vancouver Coastal Health and UBC. Dr. Evans will be starting a faculty position at the University of Saskatchewan in July 2012.