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All-Ireland MS Research Network provides hope to those affected by multiple sclerosis

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and NUI Galway have today (Wednesday 24 February 2021) launched the new All-Ireland MS Research Network (AIMS-RN).

The All-Ireland MS Research Network will be the largest collaboration of multiple sclerosis researchers across the island of Ireland, providing a unique opportunity for scientists, clinicians and people with multiple sclerosis in Ireland to accelerate MS research, going from the patient to the bench and bringing discovery research forward to benefit the patient. 

The network holds the potential to limit the progression of MS, to train future generations of MS researchers and to contribute to global MS research. 

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common causes of neurological disability in young people and is increasing in incidence and prevalence around the world. Currently, there are approximately 13,500 people on the island of Ireland living with MS (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 generations 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 

To create the network, founding investigators Professor Denise Fitzgerald, Dr Alerie Guzman de la Fuente, Dr Yvonne Dombrowski, Dr Claire McCoy, Dr Una FitzGerald and Dr Jill McMahon reached out to dozens of multi-disciplinary MS researchers across the island of Ireland. 

Commenting on the launch, Professor Denise Fitzgerald, Principal Investigator and researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said: “This dynamic all-island initiative not only brings Multiple Sclerosis researchers on the island of Ireland together, but links up each of their global networks of collaborators to accelerate research into combatting Multiple Sclerosis."

Dr Alerie Guzman de la Fuente, Principal Investigator and researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, commented: "As an early career researcher, AIMS is a unique opportunity to work together with world-leading experts in MS and based on my own experience help training the next generation of MS researchers in the Island of Ireland." 

Dr Yvonne Dombrowski, Principal Investigator and researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, added: "We are very excited to launch the AIMS Research Network which brings together those working in the field of MS from all over the island of Ireland. This will create new opportunities and accelerate joined efforts to tackle progression in MS.” 

Alexis Donnelly has lived with progressive MS for nearly 30 years, and is excited by the formation of AIMS-RN: “This network will facilitate MS 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 MS 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 Alexis is also a member).  Alan Thompson’s interest in progressive MS was piqued initially by the discovery, in the basement of a Dublin Hospital, of an empty room labelled ‘MS research’*. AIMS-RN promises to replace that empty room with a vibrant community of MS researchers.  It will hasten the day when no more people have to bear the burdens of progressive MS.  Furthermore, I am just as impressed by the equal status that people with MS themselves will enjoy in that effort.  Our own experiences and perspectives will enrich this initiative and the focus of its work. 

Coinciding with the launch, AIMS-RN is opening a call for budding multiple sclerosis researchers, at undergraduate or early postgraduate level, to apply for the first AIMS-RN Research Summer Scholarships. Following a generous donation from Eamonn Haughton and Declan Smith, of Chemical Systems Control (CSC), Ltd, the first scholarship will be awarded this year to a successful candidate who is considering an MS-focused research career.  

AIMS-RN’s aims, mission and ethos has been endorsed by the following organisations: MS Ireland, the UK MS Society, European MS Platform, Irish Institute for Clinical Neuroscience, Neuroscience Ireland, the Neurology Alliance of Ireland, the Dementia Research Network of Ireland, SFI-funded Research Centres FutureNeuro and CÚRAM (the Centre for Research on Medical Devices), the Dublin Brain Bank, the Galway Neuroscience Centre, the UK Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Tissue Bank. 

For further information and details of how to apply for the AIMS-RN Research Summer Scholarships, please visit www.aims-rn.org 

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