Editors' ChoiceNeurology

Social Media Meet Multiple Sclerosis

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Science Translational Medicine  19 Dec 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 165, pp. 165ec233
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005521

Although the use of social media and open-access resources is prevalent throughout diverse realms of inquiry, science and medicine do not yet fully exploit the full power of these tools. The Alzheimer Research Forum was one of the first Web sites designed to build bridges among researchers who study a particular disease. Now, a new open-access resource—the Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum (MSDF)—seeks to use the power of the Internet to inspire connections among researchers who study multiple sclerosis (MS) and related disorders with the ultimate goal of improving clinical medicine.

For MS researchers, who come from diverse specialties, multiple barriers impede “free-flowing exchange of information that might spark transformative ideas,” according to Evelyn Strauss, MSDF’s executive editor. “They read different journals, attend different meetings, and don’t necessarily understand the intricacies and caveats of one another’s work.” As with many human diseases, the pathophysiological mechanisms behind MS are unclear, and interdisciplinary thinking is needed to better understand this complex and prevalent disorder. Fortunately, available therapies are reasonably effective for the most evident signs of the early inflammatory aspect of the disease, termed "relapsing-remitting MS." However, there remains a lack of tools to predict whether a given individual may respond to a particular drug, as well as a “gaping hole,” Strauss says, when it comes to therapies for progressive MS—the feared and all-too-common later phase of the disease. Physicians and scientists cannot currently predict the development of progressive MS, and there is no clear evidence that it can be prevented or treated effectively.

MSDF, whose content and outreach activities are directed by the nonprofit Accelerated Cure Project for MS, was launched in April 2012 with the mission of fostering interdisciplinary research that elucidates the causes and mechanisms of MS and thus accelerates the path to better therapies. MSDF is supported by a grant from EMD Serono, but the company does not play a role in the site’s content or operations. To foster its mission, MDSF reports on recent findings and produces overviews of relevant topics, with an aim toward elucidating the most pressing research issues. Most pieces contain “key open questions” designed to highlight conundrums in the field. The idea, says Strauss, is to “help researchers focus on the most likely fruitful avenues” by helping everyone involved keep an “eye on the translational ball.” The site also aims to foster discussions on cutting-edge and controversial topics and offers resources intended to save researchers time. For example, the MSDF editorial team is assembling a drug database that synthesizes information on chemicals under investigation for therapeutic use; so far, it covers 28 compounds.

Thus far, MSDF has been well received. Dr. Richard Ransohoff, Director of the Neuroinflammation Research Center at the Cleveland Clinic, notes that he got involved with MSDF after working with the Alzheimer Research Forum and having been “impressed with them.” “The multiple sclerosis field is substantially more difficult at this moment to try to wrap one’s arms around,” remarked Ransohoff. “But the wonderful thing about this moment in time for MS is that there are a good number of drugs that may alter the natural history of the disease. It is probably a generation-long task to work them all into a logical, coherent therapeutic armamentarium. I think that [MSDF] will help in that process by being an honest broker … an authentically important goal.”

Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum http://www.msdiscovery.org

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