Poster session at ECTRIMS 2016 covers the gamut of wellness and symptom management research

While platform presentations tend to get all the glory and attention at scientific conferences, I like to think of poster presentations as the unsung heroes that cover an enormous breadth of topics and give researchers at all stages of their careers an opportunity to showcase their research. This year’s ECTRIMS conference saw a record-breaking 1,985 abstract submissions, the majority of which were poster presentations spanning topics as diverse as immune mechanisms and remyelination, symptom management approaches, imaging techniques, biomarker discovery, and findings from clinical trials, to name a few. In this post, I’d like to highlight just a few of the posters I came across that focused on how factors like diet, physical activity, mood and fatigue can play a role in the lives of people living with MS and allied diseases.

Poster hall at ECTRIMS 2016
Poster hall at ECTRIMS 2016

Dr. Celia Oreja-Guevara (Hospital Clinico San Carlos, Madrid, Spain) and her team asked the question: can stress management, particularly mindfulness-based techniques, improve quality of life and reduce depression, anxiety and fatigue in people living with MS? In a randomized clinical trial involving 58 people living with relapsing-remitting MS, 31 participants underwent a mindfulness-based stress reduction program over 8 weekly, 1.5 hour sessions, while 27 underwent a psychoeducative program that included different relaxation techniques. Dr.  Oreja-Guevara’s team found that mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions were superior to psychoeducative programs in bringing about benefits in quality of life (including depression, anxiety and vitality), while both interventions were beneficial in reducing fatigue.

Past research has shown that exercise and physical activity alleviate fatigue in people living with MS, although the reason for this has been a mystery. In an attempt to answer this question, MS Society-funded Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Nadine Akbar (Kessler Foundation, West Orange, USA) examined the effects of resistance exercise in people living with MS on both fatigue and changes in the connection between nerve cells in certain areas of the brain. In this pilot study, 6 highly fatigued people with MS were assigned to a 4-month strength training program and 4 people carried out an active stretching program. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Dr. Akbar was able to demonstrate that resistance exercise strengthened the nerve cell connections between certain areas of the brain believed to be involved in fatigue, providing preliminary evidence of the biological mechanisms behind the beneficial effects of exercise on fatigue. Further research in a larger group of people is ongoing in order to confirm these results.

Few studies to date have examined how cognitive function is affected in people living with Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorders (NMOSD). Dr. Anna Combes (The University of British Columbia) and her team investigated whether depression, anxiety and fatigue can affect executive function – a process that underlies everyday functions like planning tasks, following instructions and scheduling appointments – in people living with NMOSD. In a group of 23 participants with NMOSD and 12 healthy controls, the research team found that the NMOSD group did not perform as well overall on executive function tasks. Although people with NMOSD had relatively higher levels of fatigue and depression, these were not associated with changes in executive function, suggesting that there are other unknown factors that may be responsible for changes in cognitive function.

One topic that continues to generate a great deal of debate is the effect of different types of diet on MS disease activity. As part of the multicenter, U.S. Pediatric MS Network led by Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant (University of California San Francisco), 219 children and adolescents with early pediatric relapsing-remitting MS completed a survey assessing their dietary habits. The research team then compared dietary factors like fat, vegetable, fibre, fruit, carbohydrate, protein, sugar, dairy and iron intake and associated them with MS relapse rates. They found that overall, each 1% increase in energy intake from fat resulted in a 4% increase in the risk of relapses. On the other hand, participants who ate more vegetables generally had a lower risk of relapses compared to those who didn’t. Although more research is needed in the form of interventional trials, this study may pave the way for dietary recommendations and guidelines for youth living with MS.

Stay tuned for more ECTRIMS recaps, and leave your questions and comments below.

Categories Research

National vice-president, research, past MS researcher, and PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine from University of Ottawa. Leads the MS Society's research program to find the cure for MS and improve the quality of life for people affected by the disease.

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