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UMass Amherst Professor Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Study Multiple Sclerosis

University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences professor Dr. Richard Van Emmerik hopes to help the million people worldwide affected by Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with a two-year, $833,887, grant from the Department of Defense. Dr. Van Emmerik and his colleagues aim to create a test that will improve on the current methods used to treat and diagnose progressive MS, which is characterized by a steady decrease in nervous system function.


[Photo: Dr. Richard Van Emmerik]

“The goal of our test is to accurately track the progression of symptoms in patients and clearly diagnose them with either progressive or non-progressive MS,” explains Dr. Van Emmerik.

The project will begin with researchers developing measures for symptoms of progressive MS such as patients’ ability to feel sensation on the skin of their feet, their capacity to sense movement and position of the joints in the lower part of the body, capacity to coordinate movement of their limbs, and overall ability to walk unaided.

After that, the team will track participants’ progress over two years using the measures created in the first part of the project.

“We want to understand how sensation and motor function change in those with progressive MS by repeating these measurements every six months,” says Dr. Van Emmerik.

“The ultimate goal is to develop a process that will detect small changes in patients so clinicians and researchers can develop effective, early treatments to slow disability progression in those with MS and maintain or improve their quality of life,” he adds.

The project has exciting prospects for a rapid impact on the way patients with progressive MS are treated. Dr. Van Emmerik expects the team will publish results in academic journals by 2019, and at that time clinicians and researchers will be able to begin using the measures created during the study.

The new grant builds upon previous work by Dr. Van Emmerik and his team that was supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The project is being led by Dr. Van Emmerik and a team of researchers including Dr. Jane Kent of the UMass Amherst kinesiology department and Dr. Carolina Ionete and Ms. Carolyn Griffin of the UMass Medical School in Worcester.