Anne Rowling Clinic Researcher in Global MS Programme

16 September 2014

Researchers at the Anne Rowling Clinic have joined scientists around the world to carry out studies to find effective ways of treating progressive forms of the condition multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Don Mahad, Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Neuroregeneration, will lead a one-year study to investigate the causes and effects of DNA mutations in mitochondria in people with progressive MS. This understanding could lead to new treatments and therapies for people with progressive forms of MS.

The study is one of 22 projects that have been funded in nine countries across the world, recently announced at an MS conference in Boston, USA.

It’s part of the largest ever global effort to find effective treatments for progressive MS; collectively the projects cost more than £17.5million and funding for them has been made available from the UK MS Society and MS charities in the USA, Canada, Italy and the MS International Federation, with additional support from MS charities in Spain and Denmark, all working together under the banner of the ‘Progressive MS Alliance’.

In progressive MS, symptoms get gradually worse with no remission and there is no treatment that can slow or stop the accumulation of disability. There are more than 100,000 people living with MS in the UK and most have a progressive form of the condition. Across the world, more than a million people have progressive MS.

Dr Mahad’s work will look at mitochondria, which are tiny energy factories found inside all cells. In people with progressive MS, more genetic mutations occur in the DNA of the mitochondria found in nerve cells, so this project aims to understand why these mutations happen and what the consequences are. This could provide key information about how MS affects nerve cells and provide new targets for treatment.

We know that people desperately want more effective treatments for progressive MS – and by working with MS charities across the world, we hope to achieve this. We are delighted to be co-funding this study at the University of Edinburgh, which could lead to new ways of treating progressive MS.

Over the last few years several new therapies for relapsing remitting MS have been approved for use in the UK, but there remains a void when it comes to effective therapies for progressive MS and while advances have been made, there is nothing yet available. This global research collaboration is ignoring international borders, we’re simply funding the best science in the world – such is the need to urgently get answers to key questions.

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of the MS Society in the UK


Of the 22 projects funded, four are in the UK. They include studies at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge, University of Plymouth and Dr Mahad’s work at the University of Edinburgh.

I’m delighted to be part of this worldwide effort to find treatments for progressive MS, where there is such a huge unmet need. My own project focuses on the problem of energy deficiency within nerve cells in progressive MS, which I hope will add to our understanding of the condition and aid in the development of treatments that can help in the fight against MS.

Dr Don Mahad, Anne Rowling Clinic researcher


It’s hoped the global funding provided by the Progressive MS Alliance will speed up research into the condition, as scientists will be able to share knowledge and expertise, and will avoid duplicating work. Collectively, the charities involved are also able to fund more and bigger, expensive projects compared to if they were working in isolation.

Of the remaining 18 projects funded outside of the UK, researchers will be funded in: Australia (Monash University TBD), Belgium (University Hasselt), Canada (McGill University), Italy (University of Verona), Netherlands (Free University), Spain (Vall d’Hebron Research Institute), Sweden (Karolinska Institute and Umeå University), and the United States (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, Kessler Foundation Research Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Renovo Neural, Inc., Stanford University, University of California-San Francisco, Yale University).

For more information on the work of the MS Society, go to For the Progressive MS Alliance, visit:

Coverage in The Scotsman

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