The Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research

Marilyn and Barron Hilton

The goal of this award was to stimulate innovation and advance knowledge that will aid in developing treatments and cures for progressive forms of MS. The Foundation committed roughly $4.5 million in grant funding distributed over a four‐year period, and supported six different research projects. For this funding cycle, the Marilyn Hilton Award accepted grant proposals of up to four years, totaling no more than $900,000 per organization over the grant period.

The Foundation envisions the Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research as the centerpiece of its MS research funding. The goal is to stimulate innovative and potentially paradigm-shifting research on Progressive MS, which may otherwise go unfunded in times of fiscal restraint. Per our funding guidelines, the foundation is particularly interested in supporting projects that address the development of biomarkers for Progressive MS; other areas that could impact the field, such as new animal models, health monitoring systems or investment into possible new therapeutics for Progressive MS; and the encouragement of young researchers into the field. At this time, the Foundation is particularly interested in the discovery of biomarkers for Progressive MS.

The request for proposals for the 2014 Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research is now closed. We plan to host another round of funding, most likely in 2016.

2014 Award Winners

The six recipients of the 2014 Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research and their research projects were:

Dr. Peter Calabresi, Johns Hopkins University
To develop blood and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers of demyelination and remyelination that would facilitate identification of these processes in people with MS, as well as provide a better understanding of the pathogenesis of progressive MS, and that could be used as surrogate measures in screening for efficacy of therapeutic interventions.

Dr. Anne Cross, Washington University in St. Louis
To derive quantitative central nervous system measures of R2* relaxation rates, including R2* of regional cortical gray matter, in order to identify imaging characteristics that distinguish progressive MS from non-progressive MS using gradient echo plural contrast imaging (GEPCI) imaging technique. The second main objective is to test the ability of GEPCI to concurrently measure and predict imaging changes due to non-relapse-related progression, information which is needed to power future clinical trials in progressive MS.

Dr. Eitan Akirav, Winthrop University Hospital
To develop a minimally invasive DNA-based biomarker assay for the detection of cell loss in autoimmune diseases by examining the use of circulating methylated DNA as a biomarker of cell loss in Primary and Secondary Progressive MS.

Dr. Fred Gage, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
To identify phenotypical, genetic or molecular markers present on neural cells from Relapsing, Remitting and Primary Progressive MS patients that would result in markers predictive of clinical course, novel treatment targets and a model using human cells for high throughput drug screening to discover new therapies.

Dr. Katerina Akassoglou,Gladstone Institutes
To explore the potential of the coagulation cascade as a unique niche for biomarkers, imaging tools, and therapeutic targets in progressive MS. This collaboration between the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco includes both biomarker discovery in the EPIC cohort of MS patients and pre-clinical studies in mice to evaluate FDA-approved therapeutics in progressive MS.

Dr. Bill Rooney, Oregon Health & Science University
To map human brain metabolic activity in MS using novel magnetic resonance techniques and determine if metabolic deficits predict brain tissue loss. The ability to map metabolic activity at high spatial resolution will allow improved determination of disease progression and assessment of new therapies.

Thank you to all of the participants in this year's award process who submitted great proposals. Ultimately, we're hopeful this research will lead to innovative developments in the field that will improve the lives of people living with MS.

About Marilyn Hilton

A life well lived despite adversity can inspire good works that extend beyond a lifetime. So it was with the life of Marilyn Hilton, wife of Barron Hilton for almost 57 years, mother of their eight children, including Foundation President Steve Hilton.

As often happens, the suffering of a loved one opens the hearts of family members serving on a foundation board to the plight of all other families who also have a loved one struggling with the same disability. Out of compassion and love for Marilyn Hilton, as well as concern for millions of others suffering from multiple sclerosis throughout the world, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been a strong supporter of efforts to find a cure for MS together with efforts to provide direct assistance.

The Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research is an important step on the road to finding a cure and improving quality of life for those who are affected by multiple sclerosis.