World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day is a global event dedicated to raising awareness about MS, a chronic and debilitating neurological disease that currently affects millions of individuals worldwide.
Celebrated annually on May 30 every year, the day puts a spotlight on the strength, resilience and unity of the global MS community, along with driving international collaboration in the fight against this disease. It’s “a day to celebrate global solidarity and hope for the future,” according to worldmsday.org.
The theme for World MS Day 2023 is “Connections” and it has been the theme since 2020. According to worldmsday.org, MS Connections is about building community connections, self-connection and connections to quality care. The aim is to challenge social barriers that people affected by MS face, which often leave them feeling lonely and socially isolated. Therefore, it is important to advocate for better services, highlight support networks and champion self-care.
Established by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) in 2009, World MS Day has quickly grown to be an influential movement that brings together various stakeholders that include patients and caregivers, researchers and healthcare professionals across more than 90 countries. It provides a powerful platform for individuals affected by MS to share their stories, for scientists to share their research and for advocates to push for more accessible and comprehensive healthcare.
As part of the commemoration, numerous activities and initiatives are planned worldwide, including virtual webinars and panel discussions featuring prominent neurologists and MS researchers. Patients and caregivers will share their stories, strategies for managing the disease and coping mechanisms. This also includes fundraisers and awareness campaigns aimed to bring attention to the needs of people living with MS and support continued research into causes, treatments and hopefully, a cure.
The significance of World MS Day stretches beyond raising awareness about the disease. It also emphasizes the importance of accessible and affordable treatment. Many patients worldwide face financial and geographic barriers to accessing the therapies they need. This year, advocates are particularly focusing on lobbying for policy changes that will make MS drugs more affordable and accessible, especially in low-income countries.
World MS Day 2023 also highlights the importance of social and emotional support for those living with MS. The disease can often lead to isolation, as symptoms can make socializing difficult. By encouraging open conversations about MS and the daily challenges faced, the event aims to break down barriers and reduce the loneliness and mental health issues associated with MS.
Simultaneously, researchers are leveraging the day to share the latest advancements in MS research. This year has already seen some promising developments, including breakthroughs in understanding the disease’s genetic and environmental triggers and innovative techniques to manage MS symptoms. Some notable developments in MS research this year include:
- Understanding the cause: MS is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research has been focusing on identifying these factors, which could lead to strategies to prevent the disease. More than 200 genetic variants have been identified that are more common in people with MS. Research has shown that non-genetic factors such as low vitamin D levels, smoking, stress and certain viral infections may increase the risk of MS.
- Novel treatments: Ongoing research into new treatments for MS include novel immunomodulatory drugs that aim to modulate or suppress the immune response that attacks the myelin sheath in MS. Drugs that promote remyelination (the process of repairing damaged myelin) are also being developed. MS drugs targeting the disease’s pathology that are currently approved include Biogen’s Tecfidera and Tysabri, Genentech’s Ocrevus and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Zeposia. Sanofi also has its own approved MS asset called Aubagio, a daily oral therapy for relapsing MS. Ocrevus and Tysabri account for over 85 percent of the patient share of MS medications. Sanofi’s BTK inhibitor tolebrutinib is currently under a partial FDA clinical hold after reports of liver injury in Phase III trials. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, there are currently over 2,800 clinical studies evaluating MS treatments.
- Stem cell therapy: Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) involves using chemotherapy to remove faulty immune cells causing the disease and then repopulating the immune system using stem cells. Clinical trials have shown that HSCT can halt disease progression in some people with aggressive forms of MS, although it is a high-risk procedure.
- Lifestyle interventions: Researchers are also investigating how lifestyle changes can impact MS progression and symptoms. This includes research into the effects of diet, exercise and other wellness strategies.
- Neuroprotection: Neuroprotective therapies aim to protect neurons from damage caused by MS, preserving neurological function and preventing disability progression.
- Disease biomarkers: There is ongoing research to identify biomarkers that could help in diagnosing MS, predicting disease progression and monitoring treatment response.
World MS Day 2023 is more than a campaign, it’s a global movement that unites the MS community and renews a shared commitment to fighting the disease. It celebrates the courage and determination of those living with MS while reminding us of the connections between continued research, improved healthcare and societal support needed to ensure that each person impacted by MS can live life to its fullest.