The European Brain Council (EBC) has declared 2014 the “Year of the Brain,” with Multiple Sclerosis as a main research focus for the consortium. During the new year, more focus will be placed on understanding how the brain works and is affected by diseases such as MS because, as stated by Gordon Francis, head of the NeuroInflammation Clinical Science Unit at Novartis (whose FDA-approved drug Gilenya is a leading Multiple Sclerosis therapy), “we have already identified a lot of gaps in knowledge about treatments of brain diseases.”
To address these gaps, the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovative Medicines Initiative launched one of Europe’s largest public-private initiatives to churn out safer, more efficacious medicines to treat brain diseases, which cost European countries more than €798 billion in 2010–more than 37% the overall health budget. “More money is spent into brain diseases than cancer or cardiovascular diseases, said Mary Baker, president of the European Brain Council, but the intention is not to create “a race or competition against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, or diabetes.”
The EBC’s underscoring of MS is well-suited, given the prevalence of the disease in Europe. At least 600,000 Europeans are affected by the autoimmune condition, according to the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform. Bringing more light to how the brain works could lead to a better understanding of the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis, leading to research on new ways to treat, cure, and prevent it and other diseases of the nervous system. Already, scientists, including Frederik Barkhof at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, are looking into the loss of brain tissue that occurs with the early stages of multiple sclerosis.
The need for research is driven by the toll multiple sclerosis places on patients and their family members. Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease, with about one-third of patients requiring a wheelchair for mobility 20 years after diagnosis and fewer than one-half of patients maintaining employment after 10 years–not to mention, younger people between 20 and 40 are being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Careers, relationships, and future plans can be drastically altered for young patients, and “they are the brains of future,” said Baker. “The brain is a very special organ, and we must take care of it.”
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