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‘Canada’s disease’

Medicine researcher receives $345,000 to study multiple sclerosis progression

By Kelly Foss

According to the U.S. National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, approximately 70,000 U.S. veterans live with MS.

Of those, 20,000 receive care through the Veterans Health Administration each year and approximately 12,000 have been diagnosed with MS that was deemed ‘service-connected.’

Dr. Deepak Kaushik is an MS researcher in the Faculty of Medicine. He has received funding through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) of the United States Department of Defense (DoD).

Dr. Kaushik is an assistant professor of immunology in the Division of BioMedical Sciences.

A brown man in his late 30s seated in front of a large window
Dr. Deepak Kaushik says there is still “much to learn” about multiple sclerosis.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

He joined the faculty in 2021 and has an active program geared towards understanding the basis of MS progression.

“In Canada, approximately 90,000 people live with MS and every day 12 more will be diagnosed,” said Dr. Kaushik. “MS is sometimes referred to as “Canada’s disease” because of the high prevalence of the disease in this country.”

He says people with MS may have an attack one day, but slowly recover over time.

However, for many, the disease progresses to a point where there is “no coming back.”

Highly competitive

The DoD’s MS research program focuses on innovative, high-risk, high-reward research and is highly competitive.

“For the category Exploration – Hypothesis Development Award, more than 40 pre-applications were submitted and seven were successful, of which only three new investigators were recommended for funding,” said Dr. Kaushik. “It is definitely very special to be one of them and quite rare for Memorial University, which is a matter of immense pride for the team.”

Six people seated on a curved sofa in front of a large window
From left are Kaushik Lab members Golbarg, Nazanin Ghasemi, Zach Porter, Dr. Deepak Kaushik, Aysika Das and Mohammadamin Sadeghdoust.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Kaushik received $345,000 for a project investigating the immunometabolism of microglia. Immunometabolism is a relatively new field that investigates metabolic processes in immune systems.

“We have immune cells throughout the body and microglia are the immune cells in the brain. We want to know how these cells behave during the course of MS.”

MS patients lose a fatty covering, called myelin, from neurons – the cells in the brain involved in the processing of signals. This causes neurons to lose function.

“We want to understand what roles microglia play and if there is a way we can interfere with it, so we can devise new therapies to stop MS from progressing,” said Dr. Kaushik. “These funds allow us to generate newer animal models, which will enable us to answer some of these questions.”

Not the whole story

The funding also enabled him to hire research assistant Nazanin Ghasemi.

A brown woman in her late 20s in a lab coat looks through a microscope
Nazanin Ghasemi is a research assistant for the microglia project.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“This position provides me an incredible opportunity to play an important role in the collective effort to identify promising new approaches for the treatment of MS progression,” she said. “In this regard, I would like to sincerely acknowledge the financial support provided by the DoD.”

Dr. Kaushik says there is still much to learn about MS.

“We do not fully understand what causes MS; there’s a genetic component, but that’s not the whole story. Lifestyle factors such as certain infections, diet, sunlight exposure, etc., also play a big part.

“There have been years of research into MS, and the one thing we know for sure is that we still don’t know much about it,” Dr. Kaushik continued. “This program is just one piece of the puzzle, but every piece is important, and support from DoD will play a big role in this quest.”

This work was supported by the Department of Defense through the Multiple Sclerosis Research Program under Award No. HT94252310691Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.


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