Feb 25 2021 Posted: 07:00 GMT

Call for researchers, at undergraduate or early postgraduate level, to apply for the first All-Ireland MS Research Network Research Summer Scholarships

Researchers in NUI Galway, Queen’s University Belfast and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences have launched the All-Ireland MS Research Network today (24 February 2021).

The All-Ireland MS Research Network will join together the largest number of scientists, clinicians, healthcare professionals and people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to accelerate collaborative research across the island of Ireland. Going from the patient to the bench and bringing discovery research forward to the patient, the network holds potential to limit the progression of multiple sclerosis, to train future generations of researchers and to contribute to global multiple sclerosis research.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, immune-mediated condition of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerve). In multiple sclerosis, myelin damage results in a range of symptoms including impairment of mobility and vision as well as cognitive difficulties and severe fatigue.

As one of the most common causes of neurological disability in young people, multiple sclerosis is increasing in incidence and prevalence around the world. Currently, there are approximately 13,500 people on the island of Ireland living with multiple sclerosis (4,500 in Northern Ireland and 9,000 in the Republic of Ireland).

The goals of the All-Ireland MS Research Network are to:

  • Deliver cutting-edge research in multiple sclerosis that focuses on limiting disease progression
  • Train the next generation of leaders in multiple sclerosis research
  • Communicate multiple sclerosis research activities and discoveries to the public, research community and key stakeholders
  • Collaborate on multiple sclerosis research programmes nationally and internationally to achieve the mission of the network

Founding investigators Professor Denise Fitzgerald, Dr Alerie Guzman de la Fuente and Dr Yvonne Dombrowski (Queen's University Belfast), Dr Claire McCoy (RCSI) and Dr Una FitzGerald and Dr Jill McMahon (NUI Galway), reached out to dozens of multi-disciplinary multiple sclerosis researchers across the island of Ireland, North and South. Network members are drawn from hospitals, multiple sclerosis day-care centres, Universities, and from those who have multiple sclerosis.

Dr Una Fitzgerald, Biomedical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering, NUI Galway, said: “The founding members have worked tirelessly over the last 12 months to define the All-Ireland MS Research Networks's goals, aspirations and research mission. We firmly believe that closer collaborations and sharing of ideas and expertise across the network will lead to exciting discoveries that better explain multiple sclerosis pathology and symptoms, and that could be the basis of new approaches to MS disease management. The network will facilitate excellence in new multiple sclerosis research discoveries that might otherwise not happen.”

Dr Chris McGuigan, consultant neurologist, St. Vincent’s University Hospital, UCD Clinical Professor, and a network participant, said: “The formation of All-Ireland MS Research Network is an exciting new venture that will promote and accelerate  research into multiple sclerosis on the island of Ireland, enhancing our reputation for research excellence worldwide. It will provide coordinated information on developments in multiple sclerosis research nationally including the latest laboratory research outputs and novel technical advances. The network is multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and cross-community, and will partner with global collaborators to ensure continued opportunities to participate in the latest bench-to-bedside studies to improve care for people living with multiple sclerosis and inspire, engage and train a new generation of clinical and academic researchers in Ireland.”

Alexis Donnelly, has lived with progressive multiple sclerosis for nearly 30 years, and is excited by the formation of All-Ireland MS Research Network. “This network will facilitate multiple sclerosis researchers throughout the island to cooperate across institutional and disciplinary boundaries, linking them not only with each other but with international colleagues and allowing fresh results and insights to flow back and forth. This can only accelerate the pace of research into progressive multiple sclerosis both nationally and internationally.

“I am reminded of the story of Professor Alan Thompson, Professor of Neurology in University College London and chair of the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Progressive MS Alliance, of which I am a member. Alan's interest in progressive multiple sclerosis was piqued initially by the discovery, in the basement of a Dublin Hospital, of an empty room labeled ‘MS research’. This network promises to replace that empty room with a vibrant community of multiple sclerosis researchers. It will hasten the day when no more people have to bear the burdens of progressive multiple sclerosis. I am also impressed by the equal status that people with multiple sclerosis themselves will enjoy in that effort. Our own experiences and perspectives will enrich this initiative and the focus of its work.”

MS Research Summer Scholarships

Coinciding with the launch, the network is opening a call for budding multiple sclerosis researchers, at undergraduate or early postgraduate level, to apply for the first All-Ireland MS Research Network Research Summer Scholarships. Following a generous donation from Eamonn Haughton and Declan Smith, of Chemical Systems Control Ireland, the first scholarship will be awarded in 2021 to a successful candidate who is considering a multiple sclerosis-focused research career.

Eamonn Haughton, Chemical Systems Control Ireland, said: “New therapies for multiple sclerosis will be built on state-of-the-art research. Funded junior researchers will spend time in research groups based in at least two of the participating organisations. It is hoped that the seeds sewn by this research will help to bring multiple sclerosis treatments to the next level.”

For more information visit www.aims-rn.org and for more details about the scholarship call see www.aims-rn.org/funding or follow on Twitter @aims_rn.

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