2021 Year in Review: The MS Society of Canada is Accelerating Progress in MS Research

Through the generous support of the MS community, event participants, and donors, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has invested over $204 million in research since inception in 1948. While much progress has been made over this period, each year the Society continues to invest in the most promising research that has the greatest potential to benefit those affected by MS.

The MS Society of Canada has continued to invest in MS research to accelerate our progress throughout the pandemic, despite decreases in incoming funds raised.  In 2021, the Society announced over $2.6 million dollars in funding for new research and awards. This includes training the next generation of researchers by supporting 42 of the most promising trainees. You can read more about trainees who are dedicated to MS research in our blog series, the Faces Behind the Science.

Listen to Kelsi Smith, a Canadian doctoral candidate and endMS Doctoral Studentship Awardee, share her important research.

Here is a recap of the latest developments in MS research the MS Society of Canada has funded this year across our key priority areas.

Advance treatment and care for people with MS by optimizing treatment decisions for people affected by MS and healthcare providers, testing new treatments for MS that can target repair and regeneration of damaged nerve cells, and understanding how comorbidities (more than one disease or condition present in the same person), including COVID-19 and cancer, affect people living with MS and other allied conditions.

  • Dr. Ann Yeh at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), University of Toronto, is conducting a pilot feasibility trial to investigate metformin as a therapeutic with potential to enhance repair of damaged white matter. This study is an essential step towards a larger-scale randomized clinical trial that evaluates the efficacy of metformin – a drug already known to be safe and cost-effective – as an intervention for repair in people with MS – read more.
  • Dr. Douglas Arnold at McGill University is utilizing artificial intelligence to learn from clinical and MRI data gathered from over 10,000 people who participated in MS clinical trials over the last 20 years to make better predictions on the risk of future relapses and increases in disability. Learnings will be further tested and developed with real-world data gathered from MS clinics. This work will provide the basis of a clinical decision support tool for use by clinicians and people living with MS to make better, more personalized treatment decisions – read more. 
  • COVID-19 & MS: A North American COVID-19 & MS registry called COViMS was established in response to the new coronavirus to understand how people with MS and other allied conditions fare following infection and to identify risk factors associated with worse outcomes. Researchers identified a number of risk factors for people with MS – these were increased disability, older age, Black race, cardiovascular comorbidities, anti-CD20 disease-modifying therapies, and recent corticosteroid treatment – read more. Comorbidities (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, and morbid obesity) were identified as a key risk factor for worse outcomes for those with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders (NMOSD) – read more.
  • Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie at the University of Manitoba examines comorbidities in people living with MS. In her recent work, she found no difference in the incidence and mortality rates of breast and colorectal cancers between people with and without MS in Canada. Dr. Marrie and team also found that MS does not affect cancer-specific survival of women with breast cancer for up to 10 years following diagnosis – read more about cancer risk and survival.
  • MEsenchymal StEm cells for Multiple Sclerosis (MESEMS): Results from the international MESEMS clinical trial reported that mesenchymal stem cells could be harvested and grown, and were safe and well tolerated in people with MS. However, in this trial, researchers did not find evidence that mesenchymal stem cell treatment was effective at reducing inflammatory activity in people with active relapsing-remitting or progressive MS – read more and see Dr. Mark Freedman (The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute) discuss the potential of stem cell treatments for MS in this video.

Understand and halt disease progression by identifying novel molecular mechanisms and pathways that shed light on repair, regeneration and disease progression in MS and identifying potential new candidates for therapeutics.

  • Dr. Anastassia Voronova at the University of Alberta provides evidence for the role of a novel immunological molecule called fractalkine that can enhance production of oligodendrocytes – the only myelin-forming cells in the brain. With limited treatment options available for progressive MS, there is a need for new therapeutics that can regenerate and restore damaged myelin – fractalkine is a novel candidate for further study – read more.
Dr. Voronova shares her research into the fractalkine molecule. Watch on YouTube.
  • Dr. Jennifer Gommerman at the University of Toronto was one of 19 awardees announced by the International Progressive MS Alliance as part of the Research Challenge Awards, a worldwide call for applications to understand novel mechanisms involved in progressive MS. Dr. Gommerman aims to use imaging mass cytometry to provide a complete inventory of the components of the innate immune system in the progressive MS brain to understand all of the factors and the changes that occur, and correlate the findings with clinical data – read more.
  • Dr. Soheila Karimi at the University of Manitoba provides evidence for the involvement of Neuroregulin-1 beta 1 in MS pathology, as an early disease marker for MS as well as a potential targeted therapy to delay onset of MS disease and alleviate disease severity and progression. More work is needed to evaluate the potential of neuroregulin-1 beta 1 as a therapy for MS – read more.
Dr. Karimi discusses her research into an early disease marker of MS.

Prevent MS even before it starts. There is increasing evidence for a prodromal period in MS where non-specific clinical symptoms appear in the period leading up to the onset of MS symptoms. Advancing our understanding of the prodromal MS period can lead to earlier windows of opportunity to identify and potentially treat MS to prevent future disability progression and onset of MS symptoms.

  • The MS Society of Canada, in partnership with the National MS Society (USA), convened a virtual research workshop on June 4, 2021, focused on the multiple sclerosis prodrome entitled, Prodromal Multiple Sclerosis (Pro-MS): gaps, opportunities and priorities. Co-led by Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia) and Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie (University of Manitoba), the workshop brought together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, clinicians, and people affected by MS from across North America and Europe. The workshop aimed to summarize the current evidence for the MS prodromal phase, learn from advances in other neurological or immune-mediated diseases (i.e. Parkinson’s and Juvenile diabetes), and identify key research gaps, opportunities, and priorities for MS. The workshop outlined key priorities and considerations to help advance and accelerate research in the MS prodrome.
  • The MS Society of Canada, in partnership with the National MS Society (USA), are supporting research led by Dr. Helen Tremlett at the University of British Columbia that will further examine the prodromal period by identifying predictors of MS across different groups of people in the years before MS onset in a cohort of more than 250,000 people in Canada and Sweden. The study aims to understand how early predictors of MS may differ by key sociodemographic factors, disease course and impact on disease progression – read more.

We greatly appreciate the dedication and commitment of the researchers and their teams to continue this important work. We look forward to sharing the latest in research news – if you would like to receive our Research in Action newsletter please subscribe here.


Ground-breaking discoveries have continued in labs and clinics across Canada throughout the pandemic because of dedicated MS researchers and generous donors like you. To ensure this work continues, we need your support. Until December 31, 2021, your donation to the MS Society of Canada will be doubled and have triple the impact for Canadians affected by MS, so donate now!  

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