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Funding innovation to create lasting change in MS research

By Justin McAuliffe, November 25, 2014

This year, we launched the Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research with the goal of stimulating innovative and potentially paradigm-shifting research in the field of progressive MS.

This year, we launched the Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research with the goal of stimulating innovative and potentially paradigm-shifting research in the field of progressive MS. This cycle of funding focuses on research with the potential to seed a breakthrough discovery in the search for biomarkers for progressive forms of MS. The Foundation has committed roughly $6 million in grant funding to be distributed over a five‐year period.

The award was named in honor of Marilyn Hilton—the late wife of Barron Hilton, our Chairman Emeritus, and mother of our current President Steven Hilton—who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for much of her adult life.

In the last decade, a number of therapies for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) have emerged, and the number of therapeutics under development continues to grow. However, no therapies exist that are targeted at Primary or Secondary Progressive MS. A lack of biomarkers that can diagnose the disease early, assess its progression, and provide a meaningful end-point for testing new therapeutics has hampered research on progressive MS and the development of meaningful therapeutics. Biomarker discovery specific to the progressive forms of MS is essential to developing future treatments and supporting clinical trials. Biomarkers will not only improve and speed treatment discovery, but would also mean better patient care and disease management.

We received more than 75 outstanding proposals from some of the world’s top research institutions and chose our finalists with the help of a respected Scientific Advisory Panel of leading researchers in the field.

We are proud to announce the six recipients of the Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research and their research projects:

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.

Justin McAuliffe Twitter

Program Associate, Special Programs

Justin McAuliffe Twitter

Program Associate, Special Programs

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