What is your current position and how long have you been working in the field of MS?
I am currently Professor of Neurology, Head of the Unit “Neurological Rehabilitation” and responsible for the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Department of Neurosciences, University of Florence, Italy.
My interest and involvement in MS dates from my first year of residency, at the beginning of 80s when an MS ambulatory service was launched in our Department: subsequently, since 1998 I became responsible for the MS Center.
I obtained my medical degree and became a board-certified neurologist at the University of Florence. During my residency I received specific training in clinical neuroepidemiology as a Research Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, and at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Maria Pia Amato, ECTRIMS VP & Chair of the Scientific Programme Committee 2019
These experiences informed my research focuses that deal with clinical epidemiology, clinical and neuropsychological aspects of MS, pregnancy and pediatric MS, MR and biological prognostic factors of disease evolution, clinical trials, treatment efficacy and safety in post-marketing studies and other aspects of clinical management of MS.
My “joint venture” in the ECTRIMS executive board started in 2014 and I have now the privilege to be the ECTRIMS Vice-President. As that, I participated in the development of the first Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Guidelines for ECTRIMS and the European Academy of Neurology and take part in the board of the International Clinical Trial Committee. I am also co-founder and member of the Steering Committee of the International MS Cognition Society and on the board of the International Study Group on Pediatric MS.
How did you get to specialise on Multiple Sclerosis?
Initially I was intrigued by this challenging and little understood disease involving young people, especially that concerning females, in the most active and productive period of their lives, for which at that time no therapy was available, except for “old” immunosuppressant drugs . The diagnosis itself was a difficult task before the diffusion of MRI techniques. In conjunction with my mentor Prof Amaducci, who had the idea for specific MS ambulatory services, his pioneering concepts inspired me to dedicate my career in pursuit of his and my own goals and ambitions.
How would you describe this year’s ECTRIMS scientific programme? What can the visitors expect? What are some of the highlights?
The local organizing committee together with the ECTRIMS board have put together a fantastic programme that we feel encapsulates the most exciting new developments in all areas of multiple sclerosis from the bench to the bedside. Thus, there will be scientific sessions covering wide topics such as genetics and epigenetics, environmental factors, stem cells, viral pathogenesis, antigen specific and anti B-cell treatments, biomarkers, outcomes research and real world evidence. We aim to provide participants with an array of up- to- date concepts likely to be central to the understanding of multiple sclerosis in the future years. The programme will offer teaching courses, plenary lectures, free communications selected from abstracts, hot topics, young investigator and poster sessions. In addition, there will be a special session for MS nurses and symposia by ECTRIMS-EAN, the European Charcot Foundation and industry-sponsored symposia. The meeting will also partner with the Annual Conference of Rehabilitation in MS (RIMS).
Lastly, besides from neurology and neurosciences, Stockholm is a really attractive venue, a beautiful city, where the past, present and future constantly merge and engage.
So, we are very much looking forward to welcoming you in September for a meeting that is sure to be rich in science, education and general enjoyment.
Why should researchers, scientists, neurologists, doctors and other likeminded participants be attending the ECTRIMS Congress?
This meeting is the world’s largest gathering of MS researchers, including some of the leading authorities within this field, with more than 9,000 scientists and clinicians from across the globe, including many National MS Society-funded researchers and fellows, meeting and presenting on cutting-edge and breaking MS research news. The goals of this conference are to provide a transformative qualified growth experience through bringing together the world’s scientific professionals to catalyse and advance scientific knowledge about MS.
What is the difference from face-to-face exchange to digital participation (e.g. watching live broadcasts or webcasts after congress)?
The opportunities offered by modern technology such as live broadcasts during the congress or webcasts after congress are self-evident and serve as a great way to be involved without be able to be present, not forgetting the use of the fantastic ECTRIMS extensive online library, (onlinelibrary.ectrims-congress.eu). However, face-to-face meetings cannot be substituted and still maintain many unique advantages. There are biological, psychological, and emotional elements involved with meeting in person that virtual meetings cannot replicate. Most importantly, for the researchers, the possibility to meet and interact directly with experts from different geographical areas can more efficiently promote sharing of experiences and foster scientific collaborations among research teams. For the clinicians, it is a great opportunity to share knowledge and best practices with other professionals. Connecting through shared experiences and knowledge in medical practice is one of essential ways of learning and improving as a specialist.
Which are the newest research fields of MS? What’s a topic every neurologist is currently talking about?
Over the past few years, extensive research into multiple sclerosis (MS) resulted in a number of substantial and inspiring advances in several fields.
Revised diagnostic criteria for multiple sclerosis (MS) have been developed to facilitate early diagnosis whilst still maintaining accuracy.
We were delighted to announce that ECTRIMS and EAN have delivered the first European guidelines on MS treatment with disease-modifying drugs. Several recommendations were agreed by the guideline working group facilitating homogeneity of treatment decisions across Europe.
In the therapeutic field, new drugs for relapsing MS have entered the market. Notably, two trials on progressive MS have met their primary disability end point, representing a major, breakthrough in the treatment of this “orphan” disease subtype. These key trials refute the dogma that progressive MS cannot be treated with anti-inflammatory agents and encourages further immunological research to better decipher the pathogenesis of MS. Other essential trials have tested the efficacy of remyelinating agents, with some encouraging results, for the first time, providing a framework for future trials of remyelinating therapies in MS.
Furthermore, the recent development and validation of new biomarkers of neuronal and axonal damage, as the neurofilament light, assessed in the cerebrospinal fluid and serum, will soon contribute to improving individual prognostic prediction and monitoring patient response to treatments. This will, we believe, eventually open the way to a new era of “personalized” or “precision” medicine also in the MS field.
To conclude, remarkable progress has been made in all areas of MS research. These impressive achievements have addressed some of the key issues in MS and most importantly could highlight the future directions of the field.
We want to thank Prof. Maria Pia Amato for her valuable time.
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