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The Importance of Supporting Young MSA Investigators

The Importance of Supporting Young MSA Investigators

A Report on the Movement Disorder Society Congress in Vancouver

June 4-8, 2017

By Roberto De Marzi

Since I started working as a research fellow in Innsbruck 2 years ago, I focused on new methods for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). In MSA an early diagnosis is of particular interest, since it would enable a more specialised patient’s care and a better selection of patients for clinical trials testing new therapies. Unfortunately the early diagnosis is still a big challenge for the clinicians, since the clinical overlap with PD doesn’t always allow a correct classification.

Roberto DeMarzi, a multiple system atrophy researcher

Roberto De Marzi
2017 MSA Coalition Travel Award Winner

In the project I presented at the Movement Disorders Society Congress in Vancouver, my colleagues and I tried to find early changes in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of MSA patients. We tested six different approaches in selecting the areas of the brain to be analysed with MRI on 115 subjects. 61 PD patients, 24 MSA patients and 30 healthy controls were evaluated, and the regions of the brain to be analyzed had to be manually selected for each of the six approaches. That means that 690 brain scans were manually processed by our team! The results of the study were really interesting, showing that, using 3 of the methods that we tested, we were able to differentiate MSA patients from PD with a very high accuracy. This method could be used in the clinical routine to better individuate patients with MSA even in an early stage.

This study was really time-consuming and it was a great honor and a privilege to be awarded with the travel grant of the MSA Coalition in order to present my project with a poster at the Vancouver MDS Congress. The funding for clinical research in the academic field is often lacking, especially for rare diseases like MSA. Therefore it is a big help for us researchers to have charitable organizations like the MSA coalition providing for additional funding, even more to take part to a congress on the other side of the world.

The MDS congress is the most important congress for researchers in the field of movement disorders. It was only my second participation and on my arrival to the conference hall in Vancouver I was once again amazed by how big the congress is. The movement disorders field is not a big field of research and I work in the university hospital of a medium-sized city, therefore I was also amazed when I saw thousands of other movement disorders specialists taking part to the congress.

On the first day of the congress I attended a very exciting poster session regarding atypical Parkinsonism. It was interesting to see in which directions the researchers are moving. I received a lot of inputs on which topics could be part of my future projects. Especially interesting was a poster by Y. Compta and colleagues, from Barcelona, who detected a decrease in coenzyme Q10 levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of MSA patients. The role of coenzyme Q10 in MSA is still controversial, therefore this study could probably shed some light on the role of coenzyme Q10 in the pathogenesis of MSA or help in the early diagnose of the disease.

The day of my poster presentation was the most exciting. I presented my project in front of the guided poster tour and I received positive feed backs and comments from many experts of the field. There were also some advices on how to better conduct similar studies in the future. I will surely take these advices into account once I further develop my project.

Read Roberto De Marzi’s MDS Poster

I also had the chance to talk to many other young researchers from the entire world (UK, Italy, USA, Germany and many other countries) which are active in the MSA research and who also are investigating MRI in MSA patients. While exchanging ideas and experiences I talked to them about the MSA coalition and its initiatives. We also realized how important it would be to have more networks in the MSA research in order to increase the number of patients studied and to reproduce the findings of our research in different centers. I was really motivated by these talks and we exchanged contacts in order to try to start collaboration within our groups.

During the congress I had the privilege to hear some outstanding lectures by the world’s most renowned experts in the movement disorders field and to personally meet some of them. It was really interesting to finally connect a face to many specialists that I knew because of their scientific publications. Particularly stimulating was a lecture by Prof. Kordower about immunotherapies in PD and MSA. In Innsbruck we conducted a study with one of these therapies and it was an honor to see our study being cited in one of the plenary lectures. The last day I attended a special session about atypical forms of atypical parkinsonism, which saw Prof. Wenning as chairman and presenter. During this lecture many videos of the different clinical presentation of MSA were shown and I learn a great deal about the different phenotype of the disease. It was an exciting presentation and I’m sure it will improve my ability to recognize atypical cases of MSA in the clinical setting.

In summary, attending the MDS congress in Vancouver was a very enriching experience. In a few days I learned a lot of things about the latest discoveries in the field of movement disorders and I had the chance to know famous experts and to network with other young researchers. All these inputs gave me new motivations and ideas to further develop my projects in this field.